American racetracks are remnants of a bygone time when retail customers paid primarily with cash.  While advanced deposit wagering (ADW) firms operate on digital money backed by cash deposits, physical racetracks run on cold, hard cash.  Even self-service terminals require a bettor to insert cash to wager or acquire a voucher.

According to annual research (conducted last in October 2020) by the Federal Reserve (reported in “Diary of Consumer Payment Choice”), the frequency with which customers used various methods to pay for purchases in 2020 were as follows:

19% cash (down by 7% from 2019)
28% debit cards (down by 2% from 2019 because of the Covid-19 pandemic)
27% credit cards (up by 3% from 2019)
12% ACH (electronic bank-to-bank payments, up by 1% from 2019)
14% other (up by 5% from 2019)

The Federal Reserve study found that 60% of consumers prefer using a card and 80% of cash transactions are for payments of less than $25.

I could find no instance in which a state currently allows patrons to wager legally on horse racing using a credit or debit card.  (However, Nevada approved a form of cashless wagering technology in 2020.  For example, Resorts World Las Vegas will permit gamblers to purchase chips from a table game dealer using a digital wallet attached to the property’s mobile app.)

ADW companies can’t allow bettors to wager with credit cards, but they do offer fast and easy cash-transfer options from checking and savings accounts.  Apps and wallets are also available.  Moreover, many bettors can readily take out cash advances against their credit cards, deposit the money in a checking or savings account, and then transmit cash to an ADW by Zelle, PayPal, or a similar method. 

Proponents of debit or credit card wagering contend that the process makes it easier for bettors to track, manage, and budget their money.  Those opposed cite empirical research showing that consumers are less circumspect about their spending when using debit cards–or more dangerously credit cards–vs. cash.

On-site racetrack customers will likely continue to be required to use the increasingly antiquated cash method to bet or buy a voucher…at least for awhile. Currently, a bettor who goes to a track and runs low on cash can use an on-track ATM machine to withdraw funds from his or her checking account.

States will be reluctant to legalize cashless betting owing to the temptation that debit card or credit card use would pose to problem gamblers and recreational bettors as well.  However, the internet has often made it possible to sidestep laws and regulations.

For example, In my last two trips to the Kentucky Derby, I did not want to carry an abnormal amount of cash and also wanted to avoid long betting lines…and therefore wagered from my seat through my ADW account.  This commonly used procedure bypassed most of the inconvenience of cash betting and was a close substitute for making an on-track wager with a debit card, the difference being that the money behind a bet resided digitally in an ADW account as opposed to a bank checking or savings account.

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