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Why bettors are fleeing Nevada to bet the Kentucky Derby

With just over a week remaining until the Kentucky Derby, it’s becoming abundantly clear that Nevada horseplayers and a lot of unsuspecting tourists are going to have one hand tied behind their backs as they try to bet on the race.

The culprit is a contract dispute between the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association, which represents the state’s racebooks, and Churchill Downs Inc. The dispute, now in its 18th month, has prevented Nevada horseplayers from betting on races from the home of the famed twin spires, including the Kentucky Derby, and other tracks it owns or controls.

The Nevada Gaming Commission came up with a Jerry-rigged solution last year, allowing the racebooks to take bets on certain nationally televised races, including the Kentucky Derby. As my colleague Rick Velotta reported, they unanimously OK’d the same arrangement on Thursday.

It’s a great solution for the books, which get to keep the share of the wager that would normally go to the host track. For bettors and even casual fans, though, it’s a raw deal.

Last year, win, place and show betting was common, but players could not place multi-race wagers, such as the Pick 4 or the Oaks-Derby double. “Caps” on exacta and trifecta payouts made it absurd to even think about dipping into those pools in pursuit of a big score.

Many bettors who experienced that are expected to flee the state in order to have access to a full wagering menu.

If you wish to bet the Derby in Arizona, head to Lake Havasu City, roughly 2½ hours away. Gallagher’s Dining & Pub and the Quality Inn & Suites both will offer wagering on Churchill Downs on Friday and Saturday. Seating at both is first come, first served. As an added bonus, you can also make your Derby wagers after 4 p.m. on Friday.

If you’re considering California, be prepared for a longer haul. The nearest open simulcast outlet I could find is the National Orange Show center in San Bernardino, approximately a 3-hour, 20-minute jaunt from Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, I promised some Derby tidbits last week, so here they are:

— The bottom of the 20-horse Derby field continues to shift. Dropping out of consideration over the past week were Concert Tour, Weyburn, Panadol, Crowded Trade, Proxy and Rombauer. Moving in as a result were Hidden Stash, Dream Shake (listed as possible), O Besos and Get Her Number. On the wrong side of the cut-off right now is Baffert’s Hozier, who needs one more defection in order to run.

— The defection of Baffert’s Concert Tour may alter the hot projected pace. But with Caddo River, Soup and Sandwich, Rock Your World and a couple others with speed remaining, the front end still seems likely to be crowded. Tuesday’s post position draw will help clarify, with speed horses drawn inside almost forced to gun for the front to avoid being swallowed up when the field collapses toward the rail.

— An early look at the weather indicates Louisville will almost certainly see rain this Saturday. But the week leading to the Derby looks less threatening, according to Weather.com. After a 50 percent chance of showers on Thursday, April 29, the forecast shows that diminishing to just 24 percent on Derby Day, May 1.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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