It would seem like an easy endorsement for the president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
Prop 26 would legalize sports betting in California at 67 Indian casinos and Santa Anita Park, Del Mar Racetrack, Golden Gate Fields, and Los Alamitos Race Course.
Prop 27 would open online sports betting. No horse in the race, or so it would seem.
Either way, Tom Rooney, a former US Representative from Florida, is still enough of a politician to avoid picking sides, especially with a FanDuel representative among several track operators — including Del Mar’s — on the NTRA board.
Instead, Rooney asserts the holistic approach to the process of legalizing sports betting in a state housing one of the most important breeding, racing, and wagering thoroughbred economies in the country. FanDuel, which continues to expand its horse betting presence nationally, could help in California, he said.
Rooney wants both California sports betting measures to win. He wants either. He just wants horse racing in the game.
“All the great races that we’ve gone to this year and all the crowds that we’ve seen and everything, the bottom line is we are a gambling sport,” Rooney said in an interview with California Casinos. “And if gambling is expanding and we aren’t part of it, then we’re going to be left behind.”
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What’s The State of Horse Racing in California?
TOM ROONEY: It’s pivotal right now and it’s certainly a time in racing nationally where we’re going through a lot of machinations about who we’re going to be. And California, like with a four-legged stool, is one of the pillars of our industry. I think it’s vital, not just with these propositions, but with other things that we’re doing with HISA and racing generally right now, trying to do to make sure that we don’t lose any ground anywhere.
A big part of that is possibility is these propositions.
Would Sports Betting Hurt the California Pari-Mutuel Market?
ROONEY: In my opinion, I can’t see how the expansion of sports gambling — as long as horse racing is included — can do anything but help us.
Florida and Kentucky and some other states, California, aren’t there yet. I think that it’s only a matter of time before sports gambling is legal nationwide.
And it’s a matter of how each state’s going to legalize it. But I can’t imagine a world, 5-10 years from now, where states like Florida and California are lagging behind states like New York and New Jersey and other states that allow sports gambling. I just don’t see that.
So for me, the focus is to just make sure that horse racing is part of those platforms and integral in it, not separate from it, because if we are going to attract a newer generation of horseplayers and gamblers, there’s got to be an ease of including the Breeders’ Cup or the Kentucky Derby, or the Travers Stakes on a parlay with college football or the US Open champion. That’s the future of sports wagering in this country.
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Would You Rather See Prop 26 or Prop 27 Pass in California?
ROONEY: I think that any kind of expansion of gambling, as long as it includes horse racing as part of their platforms, is a positive for racing, generally. And I think that it could potentially expand to a new generation of people interested in betting on horses.
Full disclosure, we have racetracks and we have FanDuel/TVG on our NTRA board, so it wouldn’t be smart of me to pick to sides. But I think that, generally speaking, that both of those propositions would be positive for racing, generally.
How Important Would Fixed-Odds Wagering Be to Horse Racing in California?
ROONEY: From discussions I’ve had with people in the industry, they feel like they’re very close to getting to the point where they’re going to be able to do a parlay with a pari-mutuel. I don’t know how. That’s what we’re trying to figure out. Or different ways where that could work. We don’t want to restrict ourselves just because pari-mutuels is more complicated. So whether it’s just like a fluid parlay that you’re not going to be able to be given exactly what your payout’s going to be right then or something else, those are the things we’re working on.
Is Virtual Horse Racing Good for Real Horse Racing?
ROONEY: Those are important for the states that have legalized them with regard to revenue. So in that regard, they’re positive because I think if anything can help bolster our industry in any way, then we’re for it. And I’ve talked with those guys a lot, that industry.
I don’t think that we’re anywhere near the day where we’re not going to the track and enjoying a day at the Travers because everybody’s at home playing historical racing games on their phones.
I could be wrong, but especially I think in Kentucky, that they are sort of intertwined with regard to how they’re used and where they’re used. I met with some of those people to talk about what they do and what it means, but that issue is definitely something that is dealt with at the state level.
If it rises to the level of something at the more national level, we’d look at it, but that just seems to be like another type of game that a state can offer as part of gambling revenue that seems to be pretty successful in Kentucky though.
How Does the TVG Rebrand as FanDuel TV Help Horse Racing?
ROONEY: It’s very exciting. This is exactly what I’m talking about.
When you have a company like FanDuel, who’s rebranding its TVG element to be part of their bigger package of sports, that tells me that sports gambling is obviously taking off. And when they’re bringing TVG along with it and the personalities on the show and everything, that means that they’re bringing us with them. And that is our main goal for the next generation of gambler.
And that is our main goal for racing, generally, because look, the bottom line is, all the great races that we’ve gone to this year and all the crowds that we’ve seen and everything, the bottom line is we are a gambling sport and if gambling is expanding and we aren’t part of it, then we’re going to be left behind.
So when FanDuel and companies like FanDuel are expanding and growing and they’re bringing something like TVG along with it, that means we’re in the game and our — my job — is to make sure that horse racing is in the game for years to come.