Vegas Saddles Up For Traditional Kentucky Derby Betting

Written By Marc Meltzer on May 3, 2022 - Last Updated on May 4, 2022
Kentucky Derby betting in NV returns to normal

Kentucky Derby betting can return to normal this year if a casino chooses.

Churchill Downs Inc. and the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association struck a deal just in time for the Run For The Roses.

Once finalized and approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission, the deal between the two parties will end a three-year squabble over the horse race simulcast signals.

The disagreement between the two parties started in 2019. Churchill Downs was asking Nevada sports and racebooks to pay for its simulcast signal and wagering. This is now over and horse racing fans may resume enjoying the action at some of their favorite tracks.

Although Nevada casinos could take bets on the Kentucky Derby in 2020, the betting options were a bit different. While sportsbooks didn’t take some bets, others had limited win potential as they were booked by individual casinos and not the traditional pari-mutuel pool.

New deal in time for Kentucky Derby

The new deal will allow Nevada race and sportsbooks to show races from a variety of tracks owned by Churchill Downs Inc.

The most important part of this agreement is that Nevada casinos will be able to show the Kentucky Derby and take traditional pari-mutuel bets on the biggest day in horse racing this weekend for the first time in three years.

Nevada horse race bettors will also be able to watch and wager on races at all Churchill Downs tracks, including:

  • Churchill Downs — Louisville, KY
  • Fair Grounds — New Orleans, LA
  • Turfway Park — Florence, KY
  • Oaklawn Park — Hot Springs, AR

It appears as though Churchill Downs will be adding a few tracks to its roster later this year. Nevada sportsbooks will be able to show these races as well.

Betting The Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is the most popular horse race in the country. The race is in such heavy demand that there are plenty of special events for the race at casinos throughout the state.

My personal favorite event is the massive free watch party in the ballroom at the South Point. The casino has ample seating and remote betting stations. Drink tickets flow for wagers even though prices are already inexpensive compared to other Las Vegas casinos.

The special events and parties attract plenty of novice horse race bettors to the sports and racebook counters. Casinos can now offer traditional pari-mutuel betting. Unfortunately, not all Nevada sportsbooks offer the established type of bet.

There are a growing number of Nevada sportsbooks that only offer fixed odds betting. This type of horse race betting is similar to golf.

Fixed odds wagers only pay for specific performances such as winning a race. The casinos may also offer head-to-head matchups similar to golf events.

The definition of pari-mutuel wagering is a mutual wager between people. Bettors are technically buying part of a race pool. The winners share the money from the pool minus the takeout by the racetrack.

During the three years of this dispute, horse race betting in Nevada has changed a lot. Not all casinos offer traditional pari-mutuel horse betting. These bets include win, place, show, exactas, trifectas and more.

This can be confusing as not all retail sportsbooks identify this information upfront. There was a problem with this in 2019 when a race bettor in Reno didn’t notice a sign at a William Hill retail location.

Kentucky Derby confusion

Nevada sportsbook operators offer different types of horse race betting and this isn’t talked about often. Novice bettors may not notice a difference until they get to the counter to place a wager. At this point, it might be too late to find a sportsbook that will take the kind of wager they wish to place.

The sportsbooks can choose to offer pari-mutuel betting or fixed odds. Novice horse bettors will see similar-looking odds posted but they’re different.

Pari-mutuel odds change throughout the day as wagers are placed. Fixed odds, as the name implies, are the same and don’t change as often.

TV broadcast of the horse race will cause even more confusion.

The odds posted during the day of races will be different than those posted in a sportsbook with fixed odds. Further, the TV coverage will show traditional pari-mutuel exotic bets like exactas, trifectas and more.

In addition to the TV confusion, some sportsbook operators offer different types of betting at different locations. For example, some William Hill locations offer pari-mutuel betting while others only offer fixed odds.

William Hill isn’t the only sportsbook operator to offer different horse race betting options at different retail locations. While there are signs posted like the case in Reno above, not everyone can see the signs.

South Point and Westgate are two stand-alone casinos that offer traditional pari-mutuel wagering in Las Vegas.

Station Casinos and Boyd Gaming offer pari-mutuel at all of their casinos in Las Vegas.

Caesars, MGM Resorts and William Hill may have pari-mutuel, fixed odds or both. It may be safest to ask at the counter before placing a wager.

Boyd Gaming, Station Casinos and Wynn all offer pari-mutuel on their Nevada sports betting apps.

Most other sports betting apps only offer fixed odds for the Kentucky Derby and other horse races.

Photo by Darron Cummings / Associated Press
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Marc Meltzer

Marc grew up on the mean streets of the South Bronx. He's the rare combination of Yankees and Jets fan which explains his often contrarian point of view. Marc is a freelance writer and social media consultant. Writing about steak, booze, gambling and Las Vegas is a tough job but somebody has to do it.

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