A new law that will allow wagering on historic horse races in Wyoming could revitalize an industry betting on a comeback, track operators say.

In July, Wyoming will become the third state in the nation to permit gamblers to bet on historic races using self-service machines at bars and other locations. The entire racing industry should benefit from the machines, which can generate far more revenue than traditional simulcast betting, said Eugene Joyce, managing partner of the state’s only operating horse-racing outfit.

Track operators such as Joyce rely on off-site betting to subsidize live events, which typically lose money. If they earn more through historic wagering, they can offer bigger live purses. That, in turn, attracts more racers to the state and increases demand for Wyoming-bred horses.

“The horse racing industry has been knocked down in this state,” Joyce said. “This will allow it to get back on its feet.”

Wyoming already permits off-track betting on live races. The new law legalizes wagering on old contests.

The machines store roughly 21,000 races. The terminals don’t reveal the date of the meets or the names of the horses before a bet is placed, but do provide information on the animals’ performance records. That allows bettors to exercise some skill and judgment, Joyce said.

Gamblers can wager more often on historic races than live ones. It’s possible that historic wagering could generate 15 to 20 times the money of traditional simulcast racing, Joyce said.

“It injects a lot more revenue into the equation,” he said.

Revenue is exactly what the industry needs as it tries to rebound from a difficult period. The state went without live racing in 2010 after the closure of Wyoming Downs in Evanston, which at the time had been the state’s only operating track.

In 2011, Joyce began running live races at Sweetwater Downs in Rock Springs. He also operates off-track betting sites in four Wyoming cities, including Mills.

Joyce originally applied to host four live race days this year, but plans to add more dates now that historic wagering has become law. Next year, he’s planning 16 days of races.

That’s also when real estate broker Eric Nelson plans to re-open Wyoming Downs. He announced the decision Thursday, a day after Gov. Matt Mead signed historic wagering into law.

Joyce, who owned Wyoming Downs from 1998 to 2006, has plans for 16 live race days in the summer of 2014. He also intends to open off-track betting sites this year, said Joan Ramos, director of corporate operations for Wyoming Downs.

“We are hoping to see a revitalization of horse racing,” she said.

Contact Joshua Wolfson at 307-266-0582 or at josh.wolfson@trib.com. Visit trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/wolfjammies to read his blog. Follow him on Twitter @joshwolfson.

(1) comment

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Horse racing; now that's Wyoming cool.

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