Gamblers will take a hit on Belmont

BY Peter Schrager • June 8, 2012

That giant wheezing sound you heard at 11 a.m. ET on Friday? That wasn’t a blimp losing its way or a worldwide asthma attack. It was the collective gasp that our country took when news of I’ll Have Another’s scratch from the Belmont Stakes first hit Twitter.

That giant expletive you heard?

That was the reaction from the gambling community.

Though the race will still go off Saturday, there won’t be nearly as much interest or gambling action as was expected a mere 24 hours ago. "The betting handle on the race is estimated to drop by 35 percent overall due to the scratch," said R.J. Bell, a gambling expert in Las Vegas. "Some sports books will decrease by over 50 percent. What a difference one horse could make."

Dave Mason, a manager at online gambling site BetOnline.ag, explained the impact on his site:

"The sign-ups, bet count, action and interest will all be down big-time now that he isn’t running. When there is a horse going for the Triple Crown, everyone bets on the Belmont. Our action will be down between 40-60 percent now. We saw a huge increase from the Kentucky Derby to the Preakness and were expecting a giant leap in action for this weekend’s race."

It’s not just Vegas and the legal gambling web sites. Street hustlers and offshore books are sure to take an unexpected hit, as well.

As for bettors who already put their money on I’ll Have Another, some are still in good shape and others are simply out of luck. Any "future" bets placed in Las Vegas on the horse this week are being considered losses for the casinos.

Before the Kentucky Derby, I’ll Have Another paid 75-1 to win the Triple Crown. Before the Kentucky Derby, any horse winning the Triple Crown paid 10-1. Now, all of those bets — many very valuable betting slips — are garbage. They’re worth zilch.

However, all wagers made on I’ll Have Another at the track itself or at an Off Track Betting (OTB) vendor, will be refunded.

The Belmont Stakes will lose some of its gate attendance, but it’s worth noting that the track sold thousands of extra tickets Thursday — a day before I’ll Have Another was ruled out for the race. Conspiracy theorists are having a field day with that one, but it’s understood that attendance numbers — actual bodies at the track — will be down substantially because of Friday’s news.

"He's been doing great," trainer Doug O'Neill said at a hastily arranged news conference at Belmont Park to announce that I’ll Have Another had been scratched. "It's a freakish thing. It's like a human athlete. When you give 110 percent every time you step on the court or on the track it's something that can happen.

"I'd been hoping and praying that he'd stay healthy."

I'll Have Another's defection leaves the most greatly anticipated Belmont Stakes since 2004 with a dimmer national interest instead of the mega-watt, star-powered national attention that was expected. Experts expected Belmont Park to draw more than 100,000 fans. That number could be cut by at least 25 percent now.

NBC will take a hit, too. This year’s Belmont Stakes was expected to pull in a mega Nielsen rating number. Now, it’s a race without buzz on what’s expected to be a beautiful early evening in June. Are Americans going to leave the beach and barbecue to watch Dullahan and Union Rags go at it?

"While we are obviously disappointed that our show won’t feature I’ll Have Another going for the elusive Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes is still an iconic event on the sports schedule, and the NBC Sports Group broadcasts will treat it as such. We’re working now to adjust the game plan accordingly," Adam Freifeld, NBC Sports Group’s vice president of communications, said in a statement.

Like the bookmakers, NBC was hoping for a spillover effect from the race to its Stanley Cup Final hockey game in prime time. That number will now, undoubtedly, take a major hit as well.

Everyone loses with Friday’s news, except perhaps the horse’s owners. I’ll Have Another’s "value" — with expected earnings from offspring included — was estimated this week at $8 million. Had he been seriously injured or worse in the race, that value would have dipped substantially.

And the bookmakers in Vegas, though certainly peeved about having missed out on the action, are well aware of the beating they would have taken had I’ll Have Another completed the third leg of the Triple Crown.

"If he won, we would have gotten clobbered on some futures (odds to win the Belmont) and props (Will there be a Triple Crown winner?)," Mason said. "There was a lot of futures money on that horse. Vegas wins on all of that now. But overall, it’s bad for Vegas. Really bad."


share story