Fantasy sports meets pari-mutuel wagering and spawns visions of an endless revenue stream for California. That’s the dream, and an actual possibility, by this coming August if a proposal by the California Association of Racing Fairs (CARF) gains traction with the California Horse Racing Board.

Fantasy Sports-Pari-Mutuel Betting
A proposal merging fantasy sports and pari-mutuel wagering could be the first step toward legal sports wagering in the Golden State. (Image: Ethan Miller/Getty)

CARF officials presented the proposal to the full CHRB during its Wednesday meeting. That came one day after the CHRB’s Pari-Mutuel and Wagering Committee heard the proposal, which goes by the name Golden State Fantasy Sports.

The proposal combines fantasy sports with pari-mutuel wagering where bettors would pay an entry fee to join a contest. From there, they select a batch of athletes in a specific game or sport. If our hypothetical bettor chooses an NBA category, for example, he could bet on “Most Points Scored” and choose who he thought would score the most points on a given NBA night.

Then, the pari-mutuel format kicks in. The top scorer that night would prompt the “Win” payout. The second-highest, the “Place” payout, the third-highest the “Show,” and so forth. Bettors could also wager on exactas, trifectas, and superfectas. So our hypothetical bettor could put together a Steph Curry/Kevin Durant/Giannis Antetokounmpo trifecta or trifecta box.

The pari-mutuel concept could be legal key

Golden State Fantasy Sports would be available at 19 racetracks and satellite wagering facilities throughout California. Under the proposal, CARF would administer Golden State Fantasy Sports, which would collect a 15% takeout from entry fees.

It maintains in the proposal that a greater percentage would be shared with the satellite wagering facilities than current horse racing payouts. It did not say how much that was. The proposal isn’t new. It resembles a CARF plan from 2015 that lacked the pari-mutuel element and failed to gain traction.

“The new wrinkle is CARF wants to make this a pari-mutuel concept, which to the best of our knowledge would be the first,” CHRB Commissioner Dennis Alfieri said after the presentation. “To be clear, CARF is not asking for permission to implement this program. They believe they have the right to do this without our approval. CARF is hoping to get our blessing, but seems determined to move forward regardless.”

Commissioners taking a wait-and-see approach

Most of the commissioners expressed cautious optimism with their blessings. Commissioner Damascus Castellanos talked about exposing horse racing to a younger demographic. Commissioner Wendy Davis said she’s “in favor of whatever will grow the handle and bring people back to the sport.”

With that cautious optimism, however, came concerns. Chief among them is the legality of the CARF’s proposal. Not far behind is concern over the speed with which CARF is moving forward. Under the proposal, Golden State Fantasy Sports would be up and running by Aug. 18 – conveniently in time for the NFL season.

“I have concerns. One, is it legal?” CHRB Chairman Gregory Ferraro said. “Two is the fact we have no oversight over the program and we don’t know who does … I think it’s not completely fleshed out yet and completely planned. I think I would be more comfortable if this was proposed for 2022 and there was more information.”

Will this help, or hinder, race wagering?

CHRB Executive Director Scott Chaney echoed the legality question while bringing up another concern.

“I think the concern centers around two things. One is cannibalization … how much, at all, will this take away horse racing wagering dollars. The other is legality. We don’t see anything in the law that prevents pari-mutuel fantasy wagering. We also don’t see anything in the law that allows it.”

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