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NEVADA -- Horse racing bettors in Las Vegas may soon be allowed to participate in high-paying pari-mutuel pools with overseas gamblers while wagering on races originating from Hong Kong.
Proponents of the idea said the betting pools, which take place at two tracks operated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, can reach upward of $100 million in wagers.
Nevada race books have shown and accepted wagers on international horse races, but only for special events. Those bets were placed in separate pools. The Hong Kong Jockey Club events would mark the first time on a regular basis that international thoroughbred horse races are simulcast into Nevada race books. It would also be the first time American and Chinese wagers would be commingled.
"U.S. horse racing fans will be able to participate directly into the lucrative pools with gamblers from China for the first time ever," said Vincent Magliulo, vice president of marketing and corporate development for Las Vegas Dissemination Co., which provides race information and simulcasts from some 85 American racetracks to Nevada casinos. Las Vegas Dissemination is the American partner with the Hong Kong Jockey Club and would act as the American hub for the commingling of wagers.
"We think this can be a historic new chapter for the horse racing industry in the U.S.," Magliulo said.
Las Vegas Dissemination President John Gaughan said in a statement the company was "honored" the club chose his company "to be the Hong Kong Jockey Club's vehicle in the U.S."
Several challenges, however, remain before there is a post time in Nevada.
One of the major roadblocks appears to be getting Nevada race books to accept the simulcasts and book the wagers. So far, there is a quiet reluctance to post the Hong Kong races because of the cost associated with the event.
This week, the rate committee of the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association overwhelmingly rejected the proposed rate to carry the races that was offered by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which, according to sources, was anywhere from three to 10 times higher than what the race books pay to show events from American tracks.
"Don't get me wrong, I think the product is sensational and I love the product, but I think it has to be feasible for all of us in the state," said John Avello, director of race and sports operations for Wynn Las Vegas.
Casinos pay between 2 percent and 4 percent of the money wagered to the racetracks for the rights to broadcast the simulcast signals. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, according to gaming sources, wants a 14 percent payment.
Race book managers said the cost was too high, but all agreed the Hong Kong races are some of the sport's premier events. They agreed the wagering pools would be larger than normal races.
Avello said the cost would have to come down before he would show the races at Wynn, a casino that caters to a large Asian audience.
"I really believe we'll see this product here, but this may not be the right time," Avello said. "At some point, through time and dialogue, we'll meet in the middle at the cost."
Magliulo said the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut has signed up to receive the Hong Kong simulcast while Las Vegas Dissemination has received interest from other American racetracks and off-track betting locations to participate in the pools.
Patty Jones, executive director of the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association, would not comment on the outcome of the vote of the rate committee. She said, however, the Hong Kong pools could offer new opportunities to the industry.
"The race books have been looking to bring in new products," Jones said. "These are some pretty exciting events."
The races, run twice weekly from the Happy Valley and Sha Tin racetracks in Hong Kong, would start at 10 p.m. on Fridays and at 4 a.m. Wednesdays, Las Vegas time.
Magliulo said the Hong Kong Jockey Club is working with a marketing company to coordinate getting past-performance statistics on the horses into the appropriate publications, such as the Daily Racing Form.
Magliulo views the time aspect as a positive for the industry, with the races taking place when they would have a monopoly on the audience.
"This is not a typical race- book product," Magliulo said. "We think this could be, literally, a weekly special. These pools would become a focus of the race books when the events take place."
According to an article in the June 30 South China Morning Post, Chinese authorities believe allowing the Hong Kong races to accept wagers from Nevada casinos could be worth in Hong Kong dollars an additional $15 million ($1.9 million U.S.) to $20 million ($2.6 million U.S.) per event. Over the 78-event season, the pool would increase between $1.17 billion ($149 million U.S.) and $1.56 billion ($199 million U.S.) in Hong Kong dollars.
Most race book officials would only discuss the matter on background. Many said they didn't think there would be a lot of interest in the races. Most were opposed to the cost of the simulcast fees and didn't believe booking the races would be a profitable venture.
The chief executive of the Hong Kong Jockey Club told Chinese media that "a large number of casinos" had given Las Vegas Dissemination written commitments to accept the races. Some race book officials didn't think that was true.
Nevada gaming regulators need to license the Hong Kong Jockey Club to allow the racetrack owner to share in any revenues from wagers coming from Nevada race books. The matter is scheduled to be discussed during a hearing Wednesday by the Gaming Control Board in Carson City. The Nevada Gaming Commission will take up the matter later in the month.
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