April 20, 2022 4 min read


Vegas Racebooks Optimistic About Kentucky Derby Before Run for the Roses

Nevada’s casinos eager to offer horse racing bettors a rich selection of betting options on this year’s Kentucky Derby in May are having some sleepless nights right now. The cause? An impasse in the contract between Churchill Downs Inc and the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association regarding the remuneration that state casinos should transfer to Churchill Downs’ accounts in exchange for their simulcast signal.

The Two Parties Have Confirmed Negotiations Are Still Going Strong

The association that represents approximately 90 racebooks has confirmed that negotiations are still underway with Churchill Downs. A few operator managers including Rampart Casino’s race and sportsbook manager Duane Colucci have expressed their optimism regarding the contract, confident that the deal would be sealed just in time for the upcoming Run for the Roses that will be held on May 7. 

The problem regarding the amount that casino operators should pay to use Churchill Downs’ simulcast signal started at the end of October 2019, stopping racebooks in Reno, Las Vegas, Reno, and other Nevada locations from accepting horse race bets from the Louisville racetrack. A single exception was applied as a result of approval from state regulators. Operators were given the green light to accept bets on Churchill Downs races that would be broadcast at a national level. This way, resorts could allow bettors to wager on the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks. The exception was altered in 2021 to also allow other graded stakes part of the NBC broadcast.

Vegas Racebooks Forced to Get Creative

Since racebooks cannot share bets with Churchill Downs’s pari-mutuel pool, they need to pay close attention to their losses and focus on coming up with new betting alternatives on the two big race events. Last year, some operators only offered win types of bets, while others such as the Rampart and a number of other large racebooks displayed a much more generous plethora of options, including full odds on several bets such as show, win, and place. They also chose to cap the payouts on their exactas, daily doubles, Pick 3s, and trifectas in the 150-1 to 500-1 range, but failed to provide other exotic wagers.

Nonetheless, the new betting menu did not suffice for most racebook operators, even though they considered it to be better than a complete wagering blackout.

Employee Problems and Player Complaints

Nevada racebook operators are now crossing their fingers and hoping for the impasse between the two parties to end soon enough. Their employees have already been forced to start using almost obsolete skills they have not used since simulcasting was introduced. While no bet was denied in 2021, a lot more attention had to be paid to the process to make sure everyone remained fully alert during the procedure.

Some bettors also had their own share of bad experiences and complaints regarding Derby trifecta wagers that they claimed were capped at 500-1 even though the warning signs displayed at the resorts were speaking about a 175-seat racebook. The missing exotic wagers and the caps on them were also a big turnoff for many horseplayers.

What If Negotiations Fail Again?

If the two parties fail to reach an agreement in the upcoming days, the pari-mutuel association is likely to ask the Nevada Gaming and Control Board for permission to accept wagers under the workaround exception that was approved in 2019 and used on previous occasions. This would happen just one week before the big events at the tracks, but operators are optimistic about this scenario as well.

What if everything fails? With legalized sports betting in Kentucky having to wait at least one more year to become official, Kentucky Derby bettors could consider visiting California, Arizona, or Idaho and get access to the precious Derby and Oaks cards. At the end of February, Churchill Downs announced it would gradually scale down its iGaming and online sports betting activities and eventually shut them down completely after failing to generate favorable results.

After finishing her master's in publishing and writing, Melanie began her career as an online editor for a large gaming blog and has now transitioned over towards the iGaming industry. She helps to ensure that our news pieces are written to the highest standard possible under the guidance of senior management.

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