12/01/2012 : HORSE RACING AND SOCIAL REAL MONEY GAMBLING CONVERGE
New start-up company garnering plenty of media interest
Achieving remarkable levels of media coverage – especially in the investment sector – this week is an online gambling start-up company that claims to bridge the gap between hardcore horse-betting and online social gaming.
New York-based Derby Jackpot is beta testing an online game that lets players bet real money on live horse races via electronic devices.
Founded by a team of brothers, Tom, Walter and Bill Hessert, as well as CTO Eric Gay, after a trip to the Preakness Stakes last year, the game launched in private beta in September 2012. This week, the founders announced a partnership with payments company Dwolla and gave the New York tech world a chance to check it out at special events.
“It’s the first social horse-betting game that makes it easy to bet, watch and win online,” said Walter Hessert, who serves the firm as Derby Jackpot’s chief product officer.
Hessert says that Derby Jackpot is an online game that translates horse racing into the language and imagery of the internet social gaming fraternity which uses social networks and mobile devices.
One reviewer writing in The Verge characterised the new offering as: "Think FarmVille or Draw Something, but with players betting on live streamed races. Because it’s built around horse racing, it’s legal in 29 states."
With online poker in the United States largely moribund until a legal-political solution is found, there's additional space for products like Derby Jackpot to develop in an environment where political and legislative carve-outs have already created big opportunities which major companies have been quick to exploit over the years.
Replacing the (to the layman) often confusing horse racing industry stats and jargon on Derby Jackpot is a different, simpler and more understandable approach dominated by animations, chatrooms and other more socially-oriented features designed to make the experience both more easily understandable and fun…and making industry experience unnecessary.
"It's 80 percent gambling and 20 percent horses," co-founder Tom Hessert told The Verge, revealing that Derby Jackpot has now been in closed beta for five months, and will open to the public in 2013.
The multi-disciplined owner brothers are backed by a team of experts that includes a veteran lawyer from the horse racing industry, a former Zynga designer, and Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics, who works on horse-picking strategies with Bill Hessert.
When the game goes public for real money action early next year, players will be able to deposit money from a credit card, prepaid card, or via the Dwolla payments service. They can then place bets online or via mobile on the horses in the next live race, represented by identical avatars with different-colored masks.
The Verge reports: "There is no information about the jockey, for example, or the horse's history, or even its age – just the horse’s name and its odds. Bets are as low as $2 and can pay out as much as $2,000. Once the results come in, the site encourages players to tweet their winnings.
The publication opines that Derby Jackpot and its innovative approach to racing may be just what the battling industry needs to revitalise interest among a younger, more hip, demographic to whom technology represents no fears or barriers.
The average age of a traditional horse racing fan is 51, and that is expected to increase to 57 by 2020.
"Online betting is definitely the future," Mike Salvar, an entrepreneur who worked for the consulting firm McKinsey and Company told The Verge. "Demystifying it for a casual fan is the number one priority, and making online channels accessible to new fans is important."
Early signs of punter interest have been encouraging, with the average age of Derby Jackpot beta trialists around 35. They gathered at various venues to watch the races being screened, chatting and drinking….and betting on the races via provided iPads, also using their mobiles to tweet wins and comments.