Vegas Racebooks Get OK From NGCB to Book Derby Bets After Impasse with Churchill Downs

Posted on: September 5, 2020, 01:09h. 

Last updated on: September 6, 2020, 01:03h.

The Kentucky Derby is one of the biggest betting events in sports. But the action isn’t as lively this year in Las Vegas, thanks to an impasse between Churchill Downs and the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association.

Kentucky Derby Nevada
Horses break from the starting gate in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. The Nevada Gaming Control Board allowed the state’s racebooks to take action on the race after negotiations with Churchill Downs broke down. (Image: Churchill Downs/Coady Photography)

Last week, Sandra Douglass Morgan, chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, signed off on allowing licensed racebooks to offer betting on the just the Derby and Friday’s Kentucky Oaks. That’s based on the state regulation allowing the books to offer wagering on “horse and other animal races” based on national television broadcasts.

ESPN reported that the impasse started earlier in the year. After charging a 4.5 percent fee for every wager placed in Nevada, the Louisville track sought 5.5 percent this time around, with the fee nearly doubling to 10.25 percent for Derby weekend races.

Officials from Churchill Downs did not return a message seeking comment from

Nevada is one of the few states in the US that does not allow advanced deposit wagering accounts, like TwinSpires, to operate in the state. That means if a Nevada resident wants to bet on a race, they must bet through a state-licensed racebook or sportsbook.

Over at the South Point Hotel, Casino, and Spa, Racebook Manager Mary Jungers told its racebook at the south of the Strip casino saw a “definitely lighter than normal” crowd on Friday.

The racebook, Nevada’s largest, was booking Derby and Oaks bets in-house, she added. Through Friday, the top three horses were the same as the top three in Churchill Downs’ morning-line odds: Tiz the Law, Honor A.P., and Authentic.

Fixed-Odds on Derby Available in Vegas

Other Las Vegas sportsbooks, such as Circa Sports, have been offering fixed odds on the Kentucky Derby.

Early Saturday afternoon, Circa was offering Kentucky Derby favorite Tiz the Law at -142, or odds slightly longer than the 3-5 (-167 equivalent) morning-line odds in Churchill’s pari-mutuel pool. The Vegas book is also offering two-way – odds to win and odds to lose – on select horses, including on Tiz the Law. His odds to lose are +112.

As with many other sporting events, COVID-19 forced the Derby to reschedule. While it typically competes against the NBA and NHL playoffs, as well as MLB regular season games, this year’s race will compete against those events, as well as a handful of college football games, US Open tennis, and other sporting events.

The odds to win has been a little quieter today than I would have thought,” said Paul Zilm, risk supervisor for Circa Sports, to Saturday. “There is so much to bet, though, with NBA, NHL, CFB, WNBA, MLB, golf, tennis, etc. It will likely pick up between now and post time.”

Circa Sports has approval to offer fixed odds on all Triple Crown races, as well as the two-day Breeders’ Cup championship races that will take place in November.

Before the Kentucky Derby on Saturday afternoon, Tiz the Law’s odds to win the Triple Crown were +147 at Circa. The odds against him were -167.

No Issues Likely with Preakness, Breeders’ Cup

Nevada’s issue with the Kentucky Derby isn’t likely happen with any of the remaining big days on the racing schedule, according to Michael Lawton, a senior research analyst for the Gaming Control Board.

There’s already an agreement in place with Pimlico Race Course, where the Preakness will take place next month, and Patty Jones of the NPMA has told state officials to expect one with Keeneland, the Lexington, Ky. track hosting the Breeders’ Cup in November, Lawton said.

“The Board generally receives pari-mutuel agreements 10 days out from the beginning of that track’s race meeting,” he told

The NGCB does not break down racing handle by event. But in May 2019, the last time the Derby was held, the state’s 74 racebooks reported revenue of nearly $4.6 million and a win percentage of 15.2 percent. That equates to a handle of approximately $30 million.

For the 2019 calendar year, Nevada’s racebooks had an approximate handle of $241.2 million.