(FauquierNow.com) Saturday’s steeplechase races at Great Meadow will offer pari-mutuel betting in the palms of spectators’ hands.
For the first time, bettors will use smartphones and tablets to wager on horses in six races at the 76th running of the International Gold Cup.
The Virginia Gold Cup races in May made history, with the debut of legalized gambling at Great Meadow. But, the process moved slowly, as betters lined up for their turns at 20 electronic kiosks.
It took the average bettor about five minutes per wager, according to Gold Cup Executive Director Diane Jones.
Still, spectators stayed in line and wagered a total of $81,000.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Mrs. Jones said last week. She and others hoped the “handle” would hit $50,000 on May 4.
Early in the year, they planned to have a wireless network and betting via mobile devices. But, the logistical challenges — including a change in the county zoning ordinance — took more time.
Race officials have invested about $80,000 in the secure Wi-Fi network at Great Meadow, which has antenna on the public address system speaker poles, Gold Cup association Chairman William H. Allison explained.
The use of mobile devices should make wagering on the ponies easier and faster Saturday.
To use the system, a bettor must buy a card encoded with a personal identification number and preloaded with $20, $50 or $100.
Bettors may buy cards — with cash only — from roving sales representatives at Great Meadow or, in advance, at the Gold Cup office, which accepts credit cards. (Great Meadow also will have ATMS.)
Logging on to the Gold Cup network at Great Meadow, a bettor will enter his or her PIN to begin the process. Then, the bettor picks the race, the horse(s), the wager and the type of bet.
The system automatically will deduct wagers from the bettor’s account and credit winnings to it. Bettors may claim winnings or unused funds on their cards at Great Meadow kiosks or at the Gold Cup office for up to one year.
But, one must present his or her card to collect.
“We in the steeplechase racing world think this is going to help the sport grow,” Dr. Allison said.
If pari-mutuel at Great Meadow grows, he envisions larger pursues, with more money available to owners of Virginia-bred horses.
Horse racing everywhere has struggled with changing demographics, the recession and competition from casinos and lotteries.
Racing supports hope technology can help turn the tide.
“Gold Cup has taken the first step,” said veteran horseman Mike Pearson, who serves as a consultant to the association. “It has made Virginia breeds preferred (for entry slots) in all races.”
Making more prize money available to Virginia horses could help revive the state’s breeding industry, Mr. Pearson said.
But, it will take a methodical process, with betting from mobile devices as an important development.
“You can’t imagine how much work has gone into this,” Dr. Allison said.
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The commission requires the measures to ensure nobody could unduly influence the outcome of a race.
Saturday’s races will use FastBet Mobile, a platform developed by United Tote, a pari-mutuel contractor affiliated with Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The system will update odds in real time, as bets get placed.
The secure network at Great Meadow allows access only to FastBet. Spectators won’t be able to use the network for other browsing.
Any Wi-Fi enabled device — smartphones, tablets and laptops — will work with the system.
United Tote also will have five tents with kiosks at Saturday’s races for those who want to wager that way. Those tents also will provide payouts for those who want to cash in their cards.