Drone racing vs horse racing. Which one should people bet on?
It’s no great mystery why, alongside football, horse racing continues to take center stage within the sports betting industry. It offers a thrilling experience; it’s fast paced, it’s hard to call, it can be enjoyed remotely and it offers many a great day out at fantastic venues around the globe. It goes without saying that there’s an array of simple betting markets with high margins included too. A day at the races is a pastime which continues to be passed down generation to generation, and Cheltenham Festival for example saw record attendances in 2016.
The appeal of many major horse racing events isn’t hard to comprehend.
Big crowds, the summer sun, drinks flowing and barbecues lit to keep you energized, with back to back events offering the chance to turn that five pound note into a fifty or more in one fell swoop; it’s a pretty enticing draw.
With all this in mind and the ‘glamour’ of the sport of kings it’s easy to forget some cold hard facts. This is an industry which is, in a word, inhumane; one in which animals die for little more than our entertainment and greed. This seems to be something that the majority have been able to gloss over and ignore but the truth, however unpalatable, remains the truth.
During these enlightened modern times, you’d have thought we’d have come up with a more compassionate alternative. None have emerged so far, but there is one waiting in the wings. One which offers the same thrills but without the spills, or in this case kills, is FPV drone racing. It offers all of the draws of horse racing without its dark side.
Undoubtedly drone racing is an industry and sport very much in its infancy, and nobody would claim that it’s ready for real money wagering quite yet. It’s also generations away from ever hoping to challenge horse racing’s authority in the world of betting. The fact is though it has all the components needed to be a popular betting market. With horse racing something of a dying industry in the States, perhaps it’s time to look at such a modern alternative?
Why the sport of kings still means for horror for the horses
It’s crystal clear that what horse racing as an industry needs is either seriously increased regulation and amended practices, or better yet, a humane replacement.
Around 1000 horses are ‘retired’ from the racing industry each year by way of the slaughterhouse in Great Britain alone. A total of 46 horses have died at the Grand National since 2000. 2016 saw the record of four deaths in one year repeated. These horror stories appear time and again but little changes. In the States in 2014, the story that saw some much needed limelight shedded on the industry was that of PETA’s undercover exposé. This showed the level of mistreatment dished out to horses via leading thoroughbred trainer Steve Asmussen.
It revealed a culture of chronic drug abuse in which horses are fed with pharmaceuticals in order to either mask injury or enhance their performance.
Asmussen has won more races in the US than any other trainer in the past decade. In short, he’s a big name in the world of racing yet it took PETA going undercover for four months to bring these shady practices to light. That such mistreatment continues with the regulatory practices that are in place is lamentable and confirms the need for serious investigation.
US horse racing was hit hard by this and continues to decline year on year with dwindling crowds and classic events, such as the Kentucky Derby, eclipsed by others abroad in the UK, Ireland, France, Australia, Dubai, Japan and Hong Kong.
Things are different across the pond. The Racecourse Association revealed that attendances across Britain’s racecourses increased by 5.3% in 2015 meaning that the six million mark was exceeded for the first time since 2011. Whilst elsewhere events such as the Melbourne Cup continue to attract over 100,000 people each year. Money talks and the industry generates a staggering amount. A Telegraph article in 2014 stated that “horse racing is currently worth £3.45bn to the UK economy, with 17,500 full-time jobs in the industry and a further 67,500 people indirectly working with horse racing.” With the US being in the seemingly lonely position of its horse racing industry being in decline, perhaps that also makes it the best placed to embrace a new opportunity?
Gambling and horse racing are so interlinked that it’s near unimaginable to consider one existing without the other, especially in the UK and Ireland. Back in the late 18th Century, Harry Ogden who is widely considered the UK’s first professional bookie, announced that he would offer prices on every horse in the race for attendees at Newmarket Heath that day. The idea stuck, and emerged into racetrack betting outlets, to high street shops and to the gigantic, global and 24/7 online and mobile industry we know today.
How betting on horses works
With horses you’ve a number of betting options, the most popular of which are for a particular horse to Win (first place), to Place (first or second) or to Show (first, second or third). The odds are naturally lowered substantially for the later two options which is why many take the option of multiples; that is betting on a selection of horses in different races to Show or to Place. You can also bet on the order of horses in one particular race. In essence the options are extensive and with the amount of bookmakers around these days they’re more than happy to pander to your every whim.
The gambling industry though is one which is always looking for ways to innovate.
With so many operators competing today any new and unique opportunities are readily welcomed. A nod to the current esports betting climate is evidence of this. Newzoo estimated that esports wagering is worth around $55m already and it’s growing fast. It has a large, growing and passionate fan base, it’s well suited for the tech savvy generations and provides excellent in-play betting opportunities, especially online and on mobile, with live streams so endemic within the sport already. Sound familiar?
Why drone racing suits gambling
FPV drone racing is a sport which is uniquely placed for live betting and suitable for traditional pre-event betting too. The market options are obvious; the next to crash, the number of gates a pilot will complete, and of course the race winner, to name but a few.
Punters could guess on their precise finishing position, whilst Place and Show bets could prove highly popular. There could be multiples on different races, race cards at events in which you try to pick the winner of each event that day, and numerous Specials such as Pilot X to break track record, whilst in-play options could include Next To Crash or How Many Drones Will Complete The Course.
Few sports offer this ideal betting combo; that of plentiful straightforward, fun betting options within short, sharp events that have a high turnover.
This particular similarity is vital; Formula 1 and NASCAR for instance are great modern racing options but betting on them has never become too major a market. They lack this blink and you’ll miss it excitement, and are a world away from a rapid turnover, with F1 races lasting up to two hours and NASCAR longer still.
Betting for the majority is first and foremost about excitement and a heightened experience, of fists clenched and hearts pumping. Top class thoroughbreds run at a pace of around 35 – 40 miles per hour, and whilst there’s significant variation course to course many typical races last between one to two minutes. FPV drones are capable of faster speeds but have similar duration. This is why these two sports are ideally placed for wagering.
As the technology improves and live streams gain greater consistency drone racing is a sport which will capture the attention of millions. ESPN’s recent deal with IDRA is evidence that the world’s number one sports network is rather excited about its potential too.
Drone racing is fast, it’s exciting, it’s unpredictable and it’s inclusive. There are few barriers to entry, there’s no gender bias and you don’t need athletic prowess to perform; just a good set of eyes and great reactions. Let’s not forget that a 15 year old won the World Drone Prix in Dubai, taking $250,000 in the process, and too that clubs have pilot members in their seventies.
“This sport clearly inspires the younger generation who grew up gaming and are able to embrace new technologies, but you only have to go to a big competition and you will see pilots aged seven to seventy!” – Nigel Tomlinson, President ERSA
It has none of the stigma attached to horse racing, it hurts no-one and in fact is a sport which, almost unlike any other, offers an enriching educational experience for children, teens and adults alike. It encourages a spirit of hard work, that of establishing a problem and fixing it, and teaches engineering skills in the meantime.
It’s also one which, as prices continue to fall, will be available to a great many to try out for themselves.
Drone racing is something of a bridge between traditional sports and sports played on screens. Whilst you may have to wear goggles to play, it isn’t virtual, it’s really happening, meaning the ‘day at the races’ can be effectively replicated.
MultiGP have helped to establish local chapters across the world and in doing so they offer guidance in the form of learning the ropes of how to put on a successful event. Joe Scully of FPV Racing Events is all about setting up and running successful races, and is focused on their continued improvement for both pilots and, vitally, for spectators.
There’s no reason why in time drone racing can’t establish classic major events of its own for spectators in the vein of Royal Ascot or the Dubai World Cup. Such events would cost less to put on than their horse racing counterparts, they can be held inside or out, and the fan engagement opportunities in terms of gear, equipment and via streams are huge.
The foundations of these events already exist. From Mega Drone X to the World Drone Prix, these events have been big and they’ve been bold, and the former certainly has the potential to garner a cult fan following.
Imagine walking into a William Hill store, whacking on a pair of goggles and being able to bet in-play as you watch Nytfury rip up another drone racing circuit.
Issues, issues, issues
When assessing the potential of drone racing as a new betting market it would be foolish not to make a comparison with esports. Esports are ‘new’, or rather they’ve recently entered the mainstream, and so regulation has posed an issue with match fixing scandals and a cheating epidemic leading to some betting operators avoiding it for the time being. The entrance of Sportradar to the field though, and its partnership with the ESL, as well as Betgenius, is a sign that this ship is being steadied and guided through admittedly murky waters.
In the United States, legal issues will potentially stymie betting on drone racing. Betting is illegal in most states, and interstate betting (and doing it online) is a federal crime. As any fan of American football knows though, there are legal loopholes that allow betting through “games of skill”. Fantasy drone racing with prize money is a real possibility, even if going to a local race track and playing the odds isn’t.
Drone racing would need to establish itself far more before any reputable bookmaker would go near it but there are many parties within the sport that are already doing just that. The Drone Racing League has high production value, MultiGP chapters span the US, IDRA brings ESPN to the sport, DR1 secured a mainstream sponsor, and the not for profit body ERSA is growing drone racing in Europe. Moves are being made to regulate and define this new sport. These operators are spending significant time and money to analyse what the sport needs to entertain and engage large audiences worldwide.
Nobody is claiming that horse racing as a sport will die out, but the fact is that up this point it’s had no potential rival. Drone racing can offer the same excitement, the very same level of stimulation (or even greater) that keeps bettors returning time and again – but without thousands of animals being sent to the slaughterhouse and dying on tracks as a consequence.
Let the calls of #RaceDronesNotHorses ring out across the Twittersphere, and may the horse racing industry know that drone racing is coming for it and it’s coming for it fast with a guy in a field wearing goggles behind the controls.