Mobile sports betting will launch a new era in Maryland, and sportsbooks are already lining up to lay claim to the winner’s circle. But what about horse racing in the state?
The debut of online sports betting could keep Maryland’s already-struggling equine industry from hanging up the saddle.
Online sports betting could rejuvenate MD horse tracks
Retail sports wagering has been operating in Maryland now for eight months, but MD mobile sports betting has proven tougher for officials to get out of the gate. A definitive date as to when mobile betting will become a reality in Maryland remains unknown.
The eventual launch of mobile wagering could soon give MD horse tracks a new avenue for income, though.
A new revenue source could provide a substantial boost to the bottom line — something the Maryland horse racing industry could certainly use.
The current state of Maryland horse track sports betting
Ocean Downs near Ocean City, MD is a good case study on the impact of sports betting on horse tracks. The venue opened retail sports betting in 2021. This year, Ocean Downs is on track to generate around $1 million in total revenue from sports betting, likely matching its fiscal year 2021 totals. While not a staggering amount, it’s a nice boost for the track in an era when harness racing popularity has long since declined from its heyday in the late 1960s.
But would sports betting be enough to buoy other struggling facilities like Pimlico Race Course? It’s hard to tell. There haven’t been any concrete projections about how much of a revenue boost a mobile sports betting license could offer. And though Pimlico and Laurel Park are eligible for a joint retail sports-betting license, they have yet to partner with a sportsbook.
Also, keep in mind that retail sports betting and mobile sports betting are not an apples-to-apples comparison. You would think if Ocean Downs secures a mobile sports-wagering license, they should see more revenue since they can capture bets from anywhere inside state lines.
What would mobile betting look like at tracks?
The Maryland Sports Wagering Application Review Commission offered a draft of its mobile sports betting application this month. Ideally, SWARC would approve the application at its September meeting and launch mobile betting before the end of the year.
However, the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency noted at their August meeting that the expectation is to have people placing mobile bets by the Super Bowl. That would mean the state’s horse tracks would miss out on significant revenue from now until early February.
Horse tracks face tough hurdles
This potential revenue boost offers a glimmer of hope to horse tracks. Several extenuating factors, however, create room for pause.
First — unlike other states, none of Maryland’s horse tracks have the backing of a major casino. Ocean Downs is owned by Churchill Downs, a racino specialist with just a few non-racino properties. Tracks in other states have shown they get a nice revenue boost when a major casino brand backs them.
Second — the Maryland market could soon be flooded with up to 60 mobile sports wagering licenses. The state’s small group of horse tracks will be saddled with a hefty load of competition in that case. And such a dense competitive environment may prove to be too much for tracks hoping to generate substantial revenue from their license.