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If You Can't Beat 'em Join 'em


by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor
April 21, 2009

               According to several racetrack owners, online casinos make for “unbeatable competition” as horse racing wagers slow down with the economic climate. Many racetrack owners have setup slots games and video lottery terminals within their building claim in an attempt to hold up against the virtual competition. U.S. racetrack owners are one of the few that have been exempted from U.S. laws banning the financial transactions of online gambling, but according to a Canadian horse racing venue, Woodbine Racetrack, $200 million is lost each year to online casino gambling.

                Statistics show that of $865 million spent on horse racing wagers at Woodbine, one if five dollars is spent in online casinos that would have otherwise gone to the racetrack. Racetrack owners have been forced to consider establishing online racetracks as a means to compete with the online casino craze.

                “If we don’t offer customers exactly what they want, they have so many opportunities to get around us and bet offshore,” said Woodbine Entertainment Group Vice President, Jane Holmes. “It is a huge impact. It’s not just horse racing wagering. Some people have moved to online poker.”

                Holmes has called for lawmakers to create stronger bans against internet casino gambling, perhaps ignoring free trade agreements that have resulted in federal litigation for similar legislation. The E.U. recently found the U.S. guilty of offshore trade violations with its Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act that has consistently targeted foreign markets, and may pursue legal action if an agreement is not reached.

                OCA gaming analyst, Sherman Bradley, believes that the recent trends in land-based horse racing wagers is the result of changing times, however. “If you sell spaghetti out of a can, and then people desert you and flock to a restaurant that sells awesome homemade spaghetti, it wouldn’t make sense to ask legislators to ban homemade sauce,” opined Bradley. “Instead, you’d have to find ways to upgrade your product.”

                According to Bradley, Holmes has admitted that online casinos and other gambling sites offer advantages over their land-based counterparts, such as better payouts percentages (due to the lack of maintaining a physical location), that have led to the popularity and success of the online casino industry. Racetrack owners should therefore consider opening the doors to online customers, as they are one of two forms of gambling that are legally able to operate on the internet in the U.S. and Canada.

                “Convenience, freedom to smoke, no parking, traveling or entry fees, and great odds are all factors in people choosing online casinos over land-based gaming,” said Bradley. “Trying to prevent it is like forcing people to travel by locomotive while planes are whizzing overhead.”

                Several racetracks in the U.S. have made efforts to allow casino gambling in the tracks in order to compete with the industry. Recent state legislator talks in Florida about expanding gambling in the state have been opposed by the staunch Republican belief that such gaming is immoral. As a result, land-based casinos throughout the U.S. have been forced into bankruptcy as the online market continues to flourish.