Belmont Stakes betting may double at Las Vegas sports books from a year ago, buoyed by I’ll Have Another’s potential to be thoroughbred racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 34 years and Manny Pacquiao’s world championship boxing match.
It’s the reason I’ll Have Another isn’t just the name of horse racing’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner. It’s also the refrain of Nevada sports book operators this weekend, as the Belmont and Pacquiao’s welterweight title fight -- both on June 9 -- fuel wagering.
“The state will probably write two times more than it would be if the race weren’t involving a Triple Crown possibility,” Jimmy Vaccaro, the director of sports operations at Lucky’s Race and Sports Book in Las Vegas, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a big deal for us. You have people come into town for the fight and now with a Triple Crown threat, if you’re hanging around the book, it’s the talk.”
Simulcast wagering on the Belmont topped $56 million the past two times there’s been a Triple Crown threat, according to the New York Racing Association, including a record $63.7 million in 2004 when Smarty Jones’s bid was denied by Birdstone in the 1 1/2-mile race at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
Las Vegas oddsmakers expect significant action on I’ll Have Another, even though a winning $5 wager on the Belmont favorite would return only $4, plus the initial stake, at 4-5 odds. The 3-year-old chestnut colt will start from the 11th post position in the 12-horse field.
“There will be quite a few $2 win tickets on the No. 11 being pumped out,” Jay Rood, the sports book director at the MGM Mirage, said in a telephone interview. “A lot of those won’t even be cashed, but kept as souvenirs. I might do the same thing at one of the other spots around town.”
Horse racing’s last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978, one year after Seattle Slew won the sport’s three biggest races. The last horse to come to the Belmont with a chance of winning the Triple Crown was Big Brown, who didn’t finish the race as the 3-10 favorite in 2008.
The seven largest crowds for the Belmont Stakes were for races in which a horse had a chance to win the Triple Crown, with a record of 120,139 in 2004, when fans at the track wagered an all-time high of $4.3 million on the race.
Nevada gaming officials said they don’t have a breakdown on how much is wagered on the Belmont Stakes each year. The state’s sports book operators said the impact of a potential Triple Crown is significant.
“This brings it to a different level,” Rood said. “Your extreme novice will come into our world at least for a race or two.”
Betting on this weekend’s Belmont may also double at online sports books over a year ago, said senior oddsmaker Pat Morrow of Bovada.lv.
“Everyone wants to bet on I’ll Have Another because even the casual racing fan wants to feel like they’re part of history,” said Morrow, who offered 6-1 odds before the Kentucky Derby for any horse to win the Triple Crown. “If anyone but I’ll Have Another had won the Preakness, we’d be seeing a pretty steady decline in wagers.”
History suggests I’ll Have Another won’t pull off the win at the Belmont.
Since Affirmed won, 11 horses have failed to win the final leg in New York after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. The only two favorites to win the Belmont in the past 16 years were Afleet Alex in 2005 and Point Given in 2001.
That may increase the betting options in Las Vegas, where wagering on one major sporting event will be further helped by another. Hours after the Belmont, Pacquiao, the WBO welterweight champion, puts his title on the line at the MGM Grand Garden Arena against unbeaten Timothy Bradley.
“A horse player might not be a boxing guy and a boxing guy might not be a horse player, but I think it helps both sides,” Vaccaro said. “Anything in June sticks out for us because it’s vacation month, too. So it’s a big deal for us. This is something you pray for because it burns up another day in June where you normally might have a dead Saturday.”