Thursday, November 30, 2023

More Sports Betting Sites to Carry Horse Racing in Ontario Following King’s Plate Success

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Woodbine wants to bring pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing to other sportsbooks in Ontario, and across Canada as well.

Sports betting sites across Canada could offer legal sports betting on horse racing before next year’s Kentucky Derby, according to one industry executive. 

Woodbine Entertainment Group CEO Jim Lawson told Covers on Monday that the not-for-profit-like horse-racing company is aiming to power pari-mutuel wagering on the sport for a variety of Ontario-regulated sportsbooks by early next year — and perhaps outside the province as well. 

As of last week, Toronto-based Woodbine is already doing so for bet365, enabling the operator to once again offer horse racing to Ontario sports betting customers.

“We’re going to roll this out to other sports betting operators [in Ontario],” Lawson said. “But there’s a good chance we’ll be able to roll this out across Canada and work with the provincial lottery corporations in other provinces.”

In addition to other Ontario-regulated operators, such as DraftKings or FanDuel, Lawson gave British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec as “obvious” next stops for the online wagering partnerships.

As it does with bet365, Woodbine could effectively manage betting on the races for provincial lottery and gaming companies, as Ontario remains the only province that allows private-sector sportsbooks to compete for business within its borders.

That means a site such as B.C.’s PlayNow could have something similar to what bet365 is offering Ontarians. Woodbine’s partnership with bet365 can also act as a proof of concept for other provincial regulators, showing them pari-mutuel wagering through an online sportsbook can be done legally and safely. 

“The path is clear to now say ‘Hey, we’ve done this, here’s how it works, here’s the technology, here’s the legal analysis,’” Lawson said. “And there’s a good chance that this moves across the entire country over the next year.” 

A kingly sum

The comments from Lawson came after the $1 million King’s Plate Stakes on Sunday at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. It was the 164th running of the race, which was won by Paramount Prince.  

This year’s event attracted record levels of wagering, with a handle of $18.1 million reported by Woodbine for the Sunday card, topping the previous record of $18 million in 2019. That wagering includes all bets placed at the track, off-track betting facilities, U.S.-based retail and online racebooks, as well as through Woodbine’s digital platforms, HPIbet and Dark Horse Bets, which continue to take action on horse racing. 

However, this year’s handle for the King’s Plate included wagering done in Ontario through bet365, which partnered with Woodbine to offer pari-mutuel betting on horse racing in the province.

For very Canadian reasons, horse racing was previously unavailable through Ontario-regulated sportsbooks, but bet365 is now piggybacking on Woodbine’s technology and wagering license, allowing its customers to place bets that ultimately flow through the track’s systems. 

The bet365-Woodbine partnership is big for both parties and is the product of more than a year of work by the industry, regulators, and lawmakers. 

For starters, there is money to be made, with Lawson saying horse racing accounts for around 8% to 10% of revenue for sportsbook operators around the world. The sport is attractive for the sports-betting industry, as it is an “always on” product for operators, with a race always being run somewhere in the world. Woodbine’s federal pari-mutuel wagering license makes it possible for Canadian horseplayers to wager on those races, whether they are in Australia, Europe, or beyond. 

More money, more content

But bet365 was also offering wagering on horse racing in Ontario before it was regulated by the province, leaving some customers disappointed when the bookmaker dropped the ponies from its betting menu in April 2022. Its return could win back some business for the operator.

Woodbine, meanwhile, gains exposure to a legion of sports bettors it can try to convert to horseplayers, giving the horse-racing industry a financial boost in the process. There was concern the spread of legal sports betting in Canada would deal a blow to the horse racing industry, but Woodbine is trying to find a way to tap into the growing interest in gaming. 

“We’re attracting a whole new demographic of fans to horse racing through bet365 and ultimately through all the other sports betting apps as we build this platform out,” Lawson said. “And many others are interested in getting that horse racing content.”

Judging from the turnout on Sunday, there remains strong interest in attending events such as the King’s Plate. Woodbine wants to install retail sportsbooks at its properties, in partnership with another operator, to capitalize on that attraction to in-person wagering. 

“We were just blown away by the overwhelming demand for tickets this year,” Lawson said.

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