Horserace handicappers hope they won’t be left in the dust by SCOTUS ruling on sports bettingBy Bernard Kroviak, CDC Gaming ReportsFebruary 16, 2018 at 8:25 pmThe 2017 Breeders Cup is over, and Gunrunner was victorious in the $6 million Classic. He also finished second in the $10 million Dubai World Cup last March. In January, maybe unsurprisingly, he was named Horse of the Year at the Eclipse Awards (horse racing’s version of the Oscars.) A few days after that, he won the final race of his career, the $16 million Pegasus World Cup. He now heads off to the breeding shed.Quite a year for Gunrunner and his owners, the Winchell family of Winchell’s Donuts fame. The Winchells also own a large part of the stallion Tapit, one of the world’s leading sires, who currently commands a $300,000 single-use stud fee (in other words, it costs that much for the right to breed one mare to him.) In 2017, he had 113 foals, so the math on that alone tells you the tremendous value of Tapit as a sire.The racing season now shifts its attention to the $10 million Dubai World Cup, a race exclusively for horses three -years-old and older that goes off on March 31. Several horses who could not beat Gunrunner will be there, especially since Gunrunner won’t, as he will be busy covering mares in a breeding season that, romantically, began Valentine’s Day. But always on the mind of handicappers are the prep races the next few months, all of which lead up to the May 5th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.This year, though, bizarre as it may sound, handicappers are also following the U.S. Supreme Court. Why the interest in this august body by hard core horseplayers? Simply because it appears that the Supreme Court is considering – and, according to seasoned Court watchers, is likely to pass – a measure to legalize sports betting throughout the United States. Bettors can currently only place legal sports bets in four states.What will that mean for patrons who play the horses now at casinos and other off-site venues? Obviously, they will still be allowed to wager on horses even when the Court expands betting to include all sports, but at what cost? The concern, to me, is how horse players might be treated when and if sports gambling is expanded.Currently, handicappers, generally speaking, are the everyday players, those who grind it out at race books around the country and have for decades. Certainly, on weekends and big event days, handicappers share their venues with more casual bettors there to put $5 win on a Derby horse, but day to day, dedicated horseplayers generally dominate the action. In order to keep attracting that daily action, many casinos and racetrack casinos have habitually rewarded loyal handicappers with perks, such as points that can be redeemed for food, drinks, and racing forms.I wonder if that will continue when sports betting expands. Even now, I see changes at some casinos that are troubling. Some are giving free drinks – which are virtually always available outside the sports book – only with a single minimum $25 bet. This policy appears to be aimed at single-action sport bettors, which is all well and good, but the handicapper who bets $15 a race for a full card of 12 races doesn’t qualify.Finding free Daily Racing Forms is becoming more difficult, as well; Churchill Downs, of all places, is considering not offering it at all. In Las Vegas, where smoking is still allowed in 99 percent of the casinos, they are starting to ban pipe and cigar smoking, but only in the sports book, and only pipes and cigars. Stay in the book and smoke as many cigarettes as you like, or head out into the casino and light your Cohiba or your Meerschaum. It doesn’t sound like much at first, but it does seem like a small gesture to rid the place of old timers who grew up playing horses, have long been the backbone of daily sports gambling, and, in some cases, enjoy a good cigar. Handicappers sharing the race and sports book with bettors of other types on a daily basis will, I think, be interesting.Nothing against those sports bettors, of course; horse players and other gamblers get along just fine, now, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue. I just hope casinos continue to reward those regular horse players who have helped their industry get as far as it has, now that sports gaming has grown to the level that it has, where we seemingly stand on the edge of national legalization.Hopefully, the money wagered on the Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont, the Breeders’ Cup, and on other big race days, will continue to be a giant source of revenue for casinos, and that the handicappers who have provided revenue on the leaner days for decades are not forgotten.