05/05/2005 11:00PM

Casino-racing partnership prospers


The relationship between horse racing and the Nevada casinos has come a long way. Back in the 1970's, the interests of horse racing and Nevada gaming companies were as far apart as Secretariat's margin of victory in the Belmont Stakes.

If not for the national television coverage of the 1973 Belmont, Las Vegas bettors would have had to listen to a re-created race call over the loudspeakers of the smoky, free-standing Las Vegas race books.

Nevada casino moguls have always dabbled as horse owners. This dates back to the Union Plaza's J.K. Houssels and Verne H. Winchell to today's corporate leaders, such as Terri Lanni of MGM Mirage, Steve Wynn of Wynn Las Vegas, and the Greenspun family, which owns the Las Vegas Sun newspaper and Green Valley Ranch Casino.

But it was technology prompted by customer demand that spawned the fusion of the two gaming entities. The relationship began with the simulcasting of the New York Racing Association signal into Caesars Palace in 1983. Then came the breakthrough of parimutuel commingled pools. Players, who could finally see the races, were allowed to participate in bets such as the pick six without any limits on payouts. That put casinos out of the bookmaking and into the outlet business.

Las Vegas soon was host to racing events like the Sport of Kings convention and even the Eclipse Awards. Player demand created the many handicapping tournaments, which led to the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship being held here. Casinos, which had participated in races such as the Caesars turf series and the MGM race sponsorships in Southern California, started buying racetracks, and racetracks started getting into the casino business. Even Las Vegas casino companies, such as Station Casinos, sponsored trips to the track. The cooperation between the slots and horse operations benefited both sides.

That evolution reached another stage for this year's Derby, when a Las Vegas casino resort held a Kentucky Derby party hosted by a race track other than Churchill Downs. The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club sponsored a Derby-Mother's Day weekend at the Aladdin Hotel Casino in Las Vegas. Del Mar gave away a package that included a two-night stay, a Kentucky Derby party, and souvenirs.

The Aladdin, which next year will become the Planet Hollywood Hotel Casino, formed the deal with Del Mar representatives as a springboard to more cooperative promotions in the future. Del Mar already has an aggressive promotional program with a Southern California Indian casino company.

Aladdin race and sports book director Brad Bryant sees the deal as a win-win situation for race players. Bryant, who is a racing fan, said that the Kentucky Derby event and the relationship with a track such as Del Mar is just the beginning of what race players might expect in the future.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.