SARATOGA SPRINGS — With the COVID pandemic on the wane in New York and no new restrictions on the horizon, the 2022 racing meet at Saratoga Race Course looks like a sure thing.
Looking beyond this season and beyond the three thoroughbred tracks it operates in New York, the New York Racing Association has added a second partner to expand the reach of its NYRA Bets online horse race wagering platform.
The sums wagered through NYRA Bets have increased every year since its debut, from $303 million in 2016 to $694 million in 2021.
Caesars Sportsbook and NYRA Bets announced their new partnership on Thursday; Caesars Racebook will debut later this spring, utilizing the NYRA Bets platform.
Two months ago, Caesars Sportsbook became NYRA’s official sports betting marketing partner.
And NYRA Bets became BetMGM’s first horse racing partner in May 2021.
The partnerships with Caesars came amid the New York debut of mobile sports wagering, which does not extend to horse racing but does entail the same activity — placing wagers from smartphones and computers.
In the first 30 days it was legal in New York, 1.76 million sports wagering accounts were created and bettors placed 187 million bets worth $2 billion.
“Ultimately what it does is it increases the total addressable market,” NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said Monday. “The amount of people engaged on this platform is huge.”
NYRA’s expansion online complements the in-person tradition at the thoroughbred horse racing tracks NYRA operates under franchise. Bets placed on races at the three tracks totaled $2.73 billion for all sources in 2021, the most ever.
Attendance at Saratoga Race Course exceeded 1 million in 2021 and a record $815.5 million was bet on races there, despite the limited timeframe to prepare for the meet after state officials authorized it. The 2020 meet was run without spectators as a COVID precaution.
O’Rourke said indicators are good so far for the 2022 season at Saratoga.
It remains to be seen what impact gasoline prices will have on tourism and attendance, he said, but community interest is strong and for the first time since 2019 there’s the ability to do the full array of preparations for the meet, and offer a full schedule of advance ticket sales.
“I think we’re looking at another banner year in Saratoga,” O’Rourke said. “I think we’re looking at back-to-normal.”
While the pandemic altered in-person operations for NYRA in 2020, it also boosted NYRA Bets. Its biggest annual gain so far was in 2020, when tracks were closed to spectators and 46% more money was wagered through NYRA Bets than the year before.
O’Rourke credits a lot of the growth of NYRA Bets to NYRA’s races being nationally televised by FOX Sports. NYRA Bets was late to the game, he said, and to expand nationally it needed to differentiate itself from the other platforms.
“Our differentiator is television.”
In business terms, the horse races are content while television and online platforms are delivery, he said. NYRA is starting from a high baseline on content with the Belmont and Saratoga tracks and the more widely it can deliver that content, the better it can perform.
“Saratoga the brand is the ultimate racing brand in the United States,” he said.
NYRA Bets is available in 31 states and lets users watch and bet on races from 250 tracks around the world.
Any online bet placed from within New York on a New York race is treated financially like a bet placed at the window at the track itself, with the same benefit to the horse owners. Bets placed elsewhere are less lucrative but still have the effect of bringing revenue into New York and to NYRA tracks, O’Rourke said.
However, the regulatory framework becomes more complicated across state lines: NYRA Bets has a single-jurisdiction New York license for New York races and a multi-jurisdiction Oregon license for races in Oregon and the other 29 states.
A so-far elusive industry goal is the “shared wallet” concept, whereby bettors could use a single deposit account to make any kind of wagers that are available online, whether a baseball game or a stakes race.
This would place NYRA Bets closer to a bigger audience. (BetMGM and Caesars Sportsbook have taken a combined $1.2 billion in wagers in the first two months of legalized mobile sports wagering in New York.)
Technology issues such as credit card transaction category codes put the shared wallet out of reach for now, O’Rourke said, but the goal remains.
“There’s a lot of work behind the scenes that has to be done.”