Kentucky Derby Drives Biggest On-Track Betting Day For PENN Tracks

Written By Dave Briggs on April 27, 2024 - Last Updated on May 7, 2024
Photo of Mage winning the 2023 Kentucky Derby. PENN Entertainment VP Chris McErlean tells PlayPennsylvania that the Run for the Roses is great for horse racing business in PA.

Just how essential is the Kentucky Derby to the bottom line of Pennsylvania-based PENN Entertainment’s horse racing operations?

Chris McErlean, the company’s Vice President of Racing told PlayPennsylvania that the Derby betting likely will produce the single best on-track betting day in a given year for each of the company’s 10 racetracks.

“Across our properties, probably from an on-track betting perspective, we have big events like the Charles Town Classic and Penn Mile and the Adios out at The Meadows,” McErlean said. “And Derby Day probably does as much or more than those days from an on-track handle perspective. I think that’s the case at almost every [PENN] location.

PENN, which is headquartered in Wyomissing, operates racetracks in eight states, including two in Pennsylvania: Penn National Race Course east of Harrisburg and The Meadows near Pittsburgh.

Derby is important for driving patrons to PENN racetracks

It’s important to note that on-track betting handle is only a small percentage of the total horse racing handle. The vast majority of horse betting in Pennsylvania is done remotely via simulcasting. So, the Kentucky Derby — to be run May 4 at Churchill Downs — provides an important opportunity to promote the sport and bring people out to PENN facilities.

“The Derby is one of those must-see, must-have events and people respond to it,” McErlean said.

“It’s that ‘rising tide lifts all boats.’ The Derby is the one event in horse racing that transcends popular culture. People who probably would never think of coming to a racetrack or don’t think about horse racing 364 days a year, they know what the Derby is, or they want to get a bet in on the Derby, or they have an interest in watching the Derby.

“It’s always been part of the American culture, popular culture, but Churchill’s done a great job over the years expanding it. They’re monetizing everything at the property as much as they can. It’s obviously on national television… It’s one day of the year where horse racing is top of the sports food chain or the top of the pyramid. We don’t get to say that too often, in horse racing.”

But, if you can’t make it to the track, try Hollywood Races

PENN, which has Hollywood branded casinos at both The Meadows and Penn National, also operates its own advanced deposit wagering site called Hollywood Races that will take your online horse racing bets.

McErlean said Hollywood Races operates in 24 states, including Pennsylvania, but, “We don’t do nearly the handle of obviously a TwinSpires or TVG or Xpressbet or any of those. We have some good niches, usually in the states where we have live racing and we’ve been able to do fairly well but we’re pretty small in terms of the ADW space.”

Still, the Derby is a big day for Hollywood Races.

“We do get new signups,” McErlean said. “But we’re definitely on the lower tier of the ADWs. So, it’s not as material as maybe some of the other ADWs.”

ESPN BET app may offer betting on horse racing one day

As for PENN, it also operates the ESPN BET online sportsbook that also features the Hollywood online casino in Pennsylvania.

Asked whether ESPN BET would eventually offer betting on horse racing like an app like FanDuel Racing, McErlean said that is “probably a little bit down the road” for ESPN BET.

“ESPN BET is fairly new. We just converted [from Barstool to ESPN BET] last November. So, obviously a lot of focus and effort is being put into that. And sports betting is the number one priority right now from that standpoint, and iGaming’s a big part of it… I don’t think we have a set timetable. But I think, eventually, some sort of ADW platform tied in with the ESPN BET app will probably happen.”

Sports betting goes from threat to opportunity for horse racing

At one time, horse racing saw the proliferation of legal sports betting as a threat. Now, many in the industry believe sports betting provides horse racing with another opportunity for exposure.

“It can’t hurt. Anything, to expand the potential pie, or the, quote unquote eyeballs on horse racing, is a good thing,” McErlean said.

“But, just have having it out there doesn’t necessarily mean people are going to instantly become horse racing fans. But, I think it certainly gives racing an opportunity to tap into that audience. You know, some people might become more interested in it. Compared to other sports, there’s literally 24 hours of horse racing — domestic and internationally. In sports betting, they’re looking for content for people to bet on at three o’clock in the morning. There’s a race potentially every 10 minutes or so somewhere. So, I think racing fills a void from that standpoint. “

Five PENN tracks will race on Derby Day

For now, the focus is on driving betting handle on Derby Day.

Five of the PENN tracks will offer live racing on May 4. That means customers can watch and bet on live thoroughbred racing at Penn National and live harness racing at The Meadows before the Derby goes to post in the early evening.

“Our Penn National Race Course will have live racing that afternoon before the Derby from about 2 to 5, 5:30,” McErlean said. “And then the Derby will go. I think Derby post time is around 6:45, 6:50. We try to have a bridge for people to stick around.

“The Meadows does really, really strong on-track business for Derby Day. Penn National, The Meadows, Freehold and Sam Houston are the four [PENN tracks that] have live racing going on at the same time on Derby Day. Charles Town actually races that night. They found that they do okay on the back end, since there are not a lot of tracks racing at night.”

While on-track betting will be high due to the Derby, McErlean said betting on PENN’s live racing likely won’t fetch much on the simulcast market due to increased competition from tracks around the world.

“We won’t do much money from an export point of view on that day for our live racing, because there are a ton of tracks that are obviously open and doing the same thing,” he said. “We traditionally race at night, so we’re low man on the totem pole. But, I think the goal is more exposure for the on-track audience to get people interested in watching the racing and maybe get them to try to come back at another time.

“Betting on other signals is strong. So, it’s usually a good day from an economic point of view. There’s a lot of ancillary revenues that can get generated — food and beverage is a big thing on those days, and other revenues.”

PENN racetrack locations coast to coast

Apart from Penn National and The Meadows, PENN Entertainment operates live horse racing in seven other states:

  • Maine — Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway Bangor
  • Massachusetts — Plainridge Park Casino
  • New Jersey — Freehold Raceway
  • New Mexico — Zia Park Casino Hotel & Racetrack
  • Ohio — Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Racecourse and Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway
  • Texas — Sam Houston Race Park
  • West Virginia — Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races

Kentucky Derby post positions

Post PositionHorseMorning Line Odds
2Sierra Leone3-1
3Mystik Dan20-1
4Catching Freedom8-1
6Just Steel20-1
7Honor Marie20-1
8Just A Touch10-1
10T O Password30-1
11Forever Young10-1
12Track Phantom20-1
13West Saratoga50-1
15Domestic Product30-1
16Grand Mo The First50-1
20Society Man50-1
21Epic Ride50-1
Mugatu (Alternate)

Ways to bet on the Kentucky Derby if you can’t make it to the track

If you can’t make it to a Pennsylvania track to bet on the 150th Kentucky Derby, many online options exist in Pennsylvania.

One of the biggest and most popular is FanDuel Racing operated by the leading online sports betting site in PA — FanDuel.

Racing Site
$500 Bonus
No Sweat First Bet
Up to $500 Back if Your First Bet Doesn't Win
Get Boosted Odds & the Best Promotions
Easy Deposits, Fast Withdrawals
To Claim: Click Play Now

Other ADWs legal in Pennsylvania, beyond FanDuel Racing and Hollywood Races, include:

  • TwinSpires (operated by Churchill Downs Inc.,) — the official ADW of the Derby.
  • Caesars Racebook – the official ADW of Harrah’s Philadelphia, the harness racing track located in Chester.
  • XpressBet, operated by Stronach Group that owns Santa Anita Park and Gulfstream Park, among others.
Photo by Jeff Roberson / AP Photo
Dave Briggs Avatar
Written by
Dave Briggs

Dave Briggs is a managing editor and writer for Catena Media. His expertise is covering the gambling industry in Pennsylvania with an emphasis on online casino, online sports betting and horse racing sectors. He is currently reporting on the gambling industries in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Canada.

View all posts by Dave Briggs
Privacy Policy