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Fans of FanDuel and DraftKings think they’re cutting edge, but the fact is that horse racing’s handicapping contests have been around far longer than these heavily marketed daily fantasy sports. The handicapping contests started as a way for the thoroughbred racing industry as an innovative way to keep customer interest and loyalty, and are experienced a renewed level of interest today.

Additionally, daily fantasy sports as a whole have now come under scrutiny from gambling regulators, and the question of defining these contests as “gambling” or “games of skill” is an on-going debate. Here is a closer look at these contests and their future, as well as that of fantasy sports.

The Origins of Handicapping Contests

In the 2000’s, the growth of internet poker rooms and the plethora of casinos across the country eroded much of the market share that horse racing previous had enjoyed on gambling in the U.S. With an ever-growing array of gambling choices, racetrack goers were speedily losing interest in the “Sport of Kings.”

Tracks and industry associations chose to fight back by instituting the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship. This event caps a year of handicapping contests and tournaments sanctioned by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, or NTRA, throughout the country.

These events are hosted at racetracks, off-track betting shops, casino race books and horse racing websites. Over 93 regional events draw more than 100,000 entries each year. Winners qualify for 300 spots in the national finals, called the National Handicapping Championship, or NHC.

Handicapping Contest Format

Basically all contests follow a set of fundamental rules. Contestants must compete in six mandatory races, with an additional six as optional.

They place both $2 win wagers and $2 place wagers in each race, all of which use make believe money. The goal is to put together the biggest bankroll over the course of the 12 races.

Each contest has an individual take on the basic format, adding its own rules. These depend on the needs and preferences of the host group. The NHC allows wide them scope when interpreting the national rules.

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