The New York Racing Association is working to keep up with technology trends and stay ahead of competitors as it moves further into electronic wagering.
NYRA last week said it is seeing strong growth in its NYRA Bets system, an advanced deposit wagering platform that lets users watch horse races at more than 250 tracks worldwide, including the three tracks NYRA operates in New York state. Using money they’ve deposited in their accounts, race fans can place wagers on any of these races.
NYRA Bets debuted in 2016 for residents of 20 states and is now available in 29 states — some of the other 21 states do not allow wagering through ADW platforms, and others such as New Jersey allow only one ADW platform to operate in state.
NYRA Bets replaced NYRA Rewards, which was for New York residents only.
Tony Allevato, president of NYRA Bets, said the number of accounts is up sharply, though he wouldn’t disclose exact numbers.
He said the amount of money bet nationwide annually on horse racing has been hovering in the $10 billion range for several years. But the portion of the total bet through ADW platforms is growing sharply each year and now stands around 30 percent.
“That could be 50 percent in the next five years,” said David O'Rourke, vice president and chief revenue officer of NYRA.
For that reason, it’s imperative that NYRA have a strong ADW, Allevato said.
“Everybody is going to tell you they have the best platform, and I am too,” he said of the competition. He said NYRA Bets stands out for such things as high-definition video, Spanish-language broadcasts and, new this year, a Late Pick 5 that has proved “immensely popular.” The Late Pick 5 odds are long but the potential payout is extremely high: up to $300,000 on a wager of as little as 50 cents.
It’s also part of a larger digital strategy for NYRA, with television programs and live broadcasts that are now accessible to 75 million households, and NYRA XP, a new mobile app that gives newcomers information about horse racing and seasoned fans tools to enjoy it.
“If you just look at how the world is going, technology is here, it’s intertwined with our daily lives,” Allevato said, explaining NYRA’s expansion into the digital world. “The most important thing for us is to give people the same access to horse racing.”
Allevato said the handle — the amount of money bet — at NYRA’s premier event, the Saratoga Race Course meet, has increased this year. All-sources wagering is up close to 11 percent over the same time frame in 2016, according to numbers released Sunday, while the on-track handle has also increased by about $6 million compared to last year.
The goal with all of NYRA’s electronic and digital efforts is not just to maintain the handle but to get people through the gates.
“Our first priority is to get more people on the track,” Allevato said. “You can’t replicate the experience of being on the track.”
Saratoga Race Course is different from NYRA’s other two tracks and from virtually all other American horse tracks because of its prestige and history and its surrounding community, O’Rourke said, so it’s not a hard sell.
“It’s one of the iconic sporting venues in the world,” he said. “It’s great to have content like that. The whole city, everything about the city, the track, all dovetails.”
Asked about the ever-increasing number of casinos vying for the gambling dollar, O’Rourke said it’s an issue for the entire horse racing industry, but one that has existed for years, and is not worse this year than last.
ADW platforms are a way to maintain the revenue stream in face of competition. NYRA needs to have a strong one “to be considered major league,” said Allevato, who started in the ADW field 20 years ago with TVG, a competitor to NYRA Bets.