Gradual Development of the Parimutuel Horse Betting System

The operation of the parimutuel system had again been improved. The application of electricity had speeded the operation beyond belief, and many observers believed that Oiler, Ekberg, and Julius had perfected the totalisator. But other names were yet to come.

In the United States the parimutuel was having a stormy existence in what seemed to be eternal clashes with its arch enemy the bookmaker. The first American bookmaker of any consequence was James E. Kelley. In 1871 he made a winter book on the forth-coming Belmont Stakes to be run at Jerome Park in New York. Two or three years later an unnamed English bookmaker started taking bets at New York race tracks, and it was soon apparent that he had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Many others soon joined the gold rush, and it wasn’t long before book-making operations became more important news than racing itself.

Even before the American Revolution, there had been betting on horse races in the Colonies. The land owners bred, traded, and raced horses. Both gentry and commoners bet with all comers on the outcome of a race. In fact, horse racing was our first public sport and continued to be first until displaced in the late nineties by baseball.

Among our leading citizens who were interested in horse breed-ing and racing were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson. In 1790 George Washington acted as judge at a race meeting at Alexandria, Virginia, in which his horse Magnolia ran and was defeated. Thomas Jefferson won a race that same day with his Roan Colt. In the spring of 1805 a match race between Andrew Jackson’s Truxton and Lazarus Cotton’s Greyhound was run at Hartsville, Tennessee. Truxton was the winner, and Andrew Jackson collected a side bet of five thousand dollars from Cotton. In those early days the race was all-important; the betting only incidental. When the bookmaker appeared, betting became more important than the races.