In terms of online wagering, poker and fantasy football have exploded. As for horse racing let's just say the fuse is lit.


No one is trying harder to set it off than Chuck Champion, chief executive of Woodland Hills-based Youbet.com Inc. The task before him is simple, but challenging: he wants to steer today's young hordes of online bettors toward their fathers' best bet, the ponies.


"Horse racing is relatively unknown to a younger audience," Champion said. "Our job is to educate those younger folks that it exists."


Just look at golf. "Older white males were what golf was 10 years ago, and it is what horse racing is today," Champion said.


Horse racing has yet to catch fire in pop culture and online the way other sports wagering has. Almost $1 billion was wagered online on horse racing last year, according to the sport's governing body, compared with $2 billion on online poker. Race tracks and off-track betting brought in $15 billion last year.


After years of declining popularity, the sport is making a comeback interest rose 19 percent last year, according to an ESPN survey. But that pales in comparison to the five-year surge of poker and fantasy football, both of which have translated into online wagering bonanzas.


The demographics of poker and fantasy football are basically the same: males aged 18 to 40, and Youbet.com wants a piece of that action.


"They want horse racing to be the next Texas Hold 'em," said Ryan Worst, gaming analyst with Brean Murray Carret & Co. To do that, Youbet.com will have to put a number of pieces in motion, and not just online, he said.


"The whole industry needs to play a part in it," Worst said.


Nagging problems
Until the early 1970s, horse racing was one of the nation's most-watched spectator sports. But as other forms of entertainment gained in popularity, viewers left, purses shrank, tracks closed and the sport's image suffered. Aside from the mint-julep garden parties that accompany big races like the Kentucky Derby, the horse racing industry developed a stale image that's hard to shake. It became an old man's sport, played at run-down tracks with empty stands and in smoky OTB halls.


"We need to debunk that stereotype because it's just not true," said Chip Tuttle, partner with Conover Tuttle Pace, a marketing consultancy to the horse racing industry. Individual tracks, the NTRA and companies like Youbet.com are trying to remake the sport's image.

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