Sona mobile's "on premises" remote betting to be deployed

Remote "on premises" betting is gaining in popularity and spreading beyond its high profile use in Las Vegas land casinos, with New Jersey the latest state to approve the concept as it attempts to increase revenues for the troubled racing industry.

New Jersey authorities are set to allow Internet betting on horse races, according to a report in the Star-Ledger this week, which reveals that two publicly owned tracks are expected to lose $20.8 million next year, according to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which runs the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park racetracks. This year, the tracks are set to lose $16.9 million.

"All told, the authority expects to take in $238.5 million in operating revenues next year, a decline of nearly $5 million, according to the budget approved yesterday. In a cost-cutting move, the authority has imposed a hiring freeze for next year, with staffing levels already down 5 percent compared with 2007," the Star-Ledger reveals.

Authority officials remain anxious about the continuing decline in the racing business, with horse breeders and owners proposing that the tracks should be allowed to run slot machines. However, New Jersey based land casinos adamantly oppose the plan, saying the competition would hurt their business in Atlantic City. Casinos are paying $90 million in exchange for the tracks' agreement not to add slots before the end of 2011.

The bright spot for the horseracing fraternity has been that income from Internet, phone and off-track wagering is rising. The authority predicts such operations will take in $9.3 million after expenses next year, a roughly $220 000 increase over this year's expected results. Horse race betting over the Internet is exempted from anti-online gambling laws in the United States.

Despite the rise in wagering through these media, it is not sufficient to "ensure the economic viability of horse racing," said Carl Goldberg, chair of the sports authority.

But the authority hopes that mobile 'on premises' wagering could debut as early as January 2009, and will help improve the bottom line.

The system requires users to download software to a device that uses the Windows Mobile operating system. The software, produced by Sona Mobile, provides information on betting odds, horses, trainers and jockeys, and allows users to place online bets. Eventually, the authority expects to broadcast live racing videos to mobile devices.

Tracks in Europe and Asia have offered mobile betting software for three to five years, said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

Wagerers "might bet more because it will make it more convenient," Schwartz said. Plus, he said, such software allows tracks to hire fewer betting clerks and phone operators.

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