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Gone in an instant
Thursday, July 07, 2011 - by Tim Bojarski

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There is a form of video gaming currently used at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas known as Instant Racing. It was created as a joint venture between AmTote and RaceTech, LLC and is not a true VLT because although it is a gaming machine, it uses a payout system based on pari-mutuel wagering. So Instant Racing does not require amendments to existing state laws or special legislation in states where video gaming has not been approved but racing already exists because it is pari-mutuel wagering.


The Amtote website describes their game like this:


“Instant Racing is a pari-mutuel terminal with over 60,000 digitized videos of previously run races.


Bettors can use Daily Racing Form "Skill Graph" charts of generalized data on the field to assist them in choosing three runners in projected order of finish. They can then watch the entire race or a short clip of the stretch run.


Winners receive graduated payoffs by correctly selecting the first three finishers in order, the first three in any order, the top two finishers, the winner or any two of the top three finishers. Payoffs are also determined by timing—bettors may be playing different races, but the wagers are lumped into the same pool and the player who hits first receives the highest payoff.”


Oaklawn’s handle on the games was about $70 million in 2004, jumping up to $225 million in 2007 and $228 million in 2008. They now have 400 Instant Racing terminals and in 2009 Instant Racing handled $242.9 million, which produced a reported $21.1 million commission to the track. And for the Arkansas Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association that translated into a purse increase of 15 percent, or $3.17 million. When traditional electronic wagering games like video poker were added, Oaklawn said the handle on the historical racing machines increased.


Photos courtesy of the author
Instant racing has brought millions of dollars to Arkansas.

After casino-type gaming failed in the legislature, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved regulations that will permit Instant Racing wagering at the state’s licensed tracks in an effort to stop their declining revenues and competition from gaming at other states. Wagering on historical races was approved as part of a set of new and amended exotic wagering regulations. The measure mandates 1.5 percent of Instant Racing handle to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund and Kentucky Standardbred Development Fund.


Tom LaMarra of BloodHorse.com reported in March that the Kentucky bill allows tracks and horsemen to negotiate their percentages of the Instant Racing commission and that Instant Racing revenue would have the most impact on tracks with smaller purses.


For instance, if Turfway Park were to handle $200 million a year through Instant Racing and produce a commission of $20 million, a 50/50 split with horsemen would generate $10 million for the track and $10 million for the horsemen. In all of 2009, Turfway paid $12.9 million in purses, meaning purses would almost double. If Churchill Downs did similar numbers with Instant Racing under the same 50/50 commission formula, purses would grow about 33 percent.


Instant racing patrons bet on race replays.

The Oaklawn website explains “Alongside the latest electronic games of skill in the Instant Racing and Gaming room, you'll find these popular pari-mutuel machines that combine all of the fun and flash of video gaming with the wagering excitement of racing.”


I have been thinking about these machines for a while and have a real mixed feeling about them. On one hand they appear to generate income which can be beneficial for the horsemen at the tracks they are operated in. On the other hand, could they make live racing obsolete?


If a racetrack that hosts historical racing games finds out that there is more interest in betting on fictitious races than on live ones, then why have live ones?


I also wondered if tracks that have these machines in service, witnessed a loss in their live or simulcast handle from people betting the Instant Racing games rather than the live product? I haven’t been able to find any information about that. However I do know that these machines were previously installed at Wyoming Downs (since closed), Portland Meadows and Multnomah Greyhound Park, but were pulled from those tracks in 2003.


I don’t understand why someone would rather sit in a dark room at a machine and bet “make believe races” rather than be outside in the sun betting on real ones. Maybe it’s me, but that’s like eating at Ponderosa instead of Ruth’s Chris.

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The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.

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