Bans on spectators at horseraces due to the coronavirus outbreak show the power of online betting. Some regulators are allowing horseracing fixtures to proceed behind closed doors, with punters placing bets via apps and other online platforms.

While worldwide cancelations of major sporting events due to the coronavirus outbreak are leaving sports bettors bored and disappointed, the horseracing industry has found a way to cope with the crisis.

Several major horseracing events, like the Grand National in the UK and the Kentucky Derby in the US, have been canceled or postponed. However, other horseraces in states across the US are going ahead as planned. The only difference between the current state of affairs and business as usual is a conspicuous lack of spectators, who have been banned from attending. Instead, gamblers are being encouraged to download apps and bet remotely.

There is a strong incentive on the part of the states to keep horseracing going as long as possible. Thoroughbred racing in New York generated over $2 billion in revenues in 2019, supplying the state with $15 million in taxes. So if organizers have to shut their doors to spectators in order to keep the races going, that’s what they’ll do. But when one door closes, another one opens.

While spectators are prohibited from attending the races, they are more than welcome to bet to their hearts’ content - just so long as they do so from the comfort of their own homes. TVG, the global online horserace betting platform, saw a shocking 75% increase in betting activity over a recent weekend compared with the same time the year before. The FanDuel Racing App, which caters to first-time bettors, recently took 6th place in Apple’s list of the most-downloaded free sports apps, as growing numbers of punters - and, potentially, people who are simply bored and in need of entertainment - place bets online.

The adaptation has a parallel in recent memory. Several outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in British horseracing throughout the first decade and a half of the 2000s saw spikes in virtual horserace betting as punters compensated for cancellations by turning online. Similarly, in addition to the boom in online betting on live horseracing, online bookmakers and virtual sports providers have seen a surge in virtual horserace betting.

All in all, the horseracing industry’s flexibility illustrates the power of remote betting and gambling. As a multibillion-dollar industry, horseracing could hardly afford to suddenly grind to a halt. Holding the races behind closed doors and having punters wager from home not only provides bettors with some respite from the boredom of quarantine but allows the betting industry to offset substantial portions of its losses, as well as bringing tax revenues to governments that permit the races. This dynamic will surely be observed throughout the betting and gaming industry at large, and gamblers turn to online casinos, and throughout other sectors of the global economy.