Saturday is the biggest day of the year in horse racing and despite the efforts of the firm that runs the state’s 15 off-track betting locations, Connecticut residents will not have access to the long-awaited online system for placing bets.
Sportech, the British firm that runs the OTB locations, branded as Winners, won state approval in December to launch online horse racing parimutuel gaming in Connecticut. Sportech had said it would launch the service in April — in time for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby –but as of this week, a spokeswoman said the kinks weren’t all out yet.
It was a decision that came down to the wire, said Jennifer Conning of Sportech, which has its North American headquarters in New Haven.
“We wanted to be 100 percent happy with the product before we released it,” Conning said. “We could have gone either way and we just chose to be a little more conservative.”
The new system, when it does go online later this month, will represent the first legal, online gaming in Connecticut — although it’s not gaming in the traditional sense because it’s parimutuel, in which betters wager against the odds, rather than against the house, and the venue takes a fee.
Much of Sportech’s business in the United States is not running venues, but developing customized, interactive platforms for other venues. The Connecticut rollout is the first of a new generation for the company’s systems, Conning said, explaining the delay.
It’s too bad, as Saturday marks the start of the season with a bang, and would have been an opportunity for Sportech to have a high-profile launch. “The Kentucky Derby is our busiest day of the year,” Conning said.
Although some companies, including Churchill Downs, offer online betting for races, it’s not legal in Connecticut. Conning said Sportech has a marketing campaign to make it clear that it’s the only allowable online option for Connecticut residents betting on horses.
The online system did not require a change in the law the way traditional online gambling would, because it’s an extension of telephone betting — far more robust, with video of many races. Will online betting would hurt attendance at the 15 Winners locations around the state, including Winners Bradley, formerly known as the Bradley Teletheater?
“You have a large group of people who want the social experience,” Conning said. “This just adds another option for people that want the convenience.”