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Saturday’s running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs serves as a reminder of how close the very different worlds of casino entertainment and horse racing have become.

Many states currently have active “racino” operations. Still others are considering legalizing this unique blend of casino gambling and pari-mutuel wagering under the same roof.

Of course, sports themed restaurants at casinos in the Region will be featuring the Kentucky Derby on its TV screens, but as far as the wagering aspect is concerned that remains the domain of the tracks, off-track betting sites, and on-line wagering companies.

The famous "Run for the Roses" is thoroughbred racing's showcase event in much the same way as the World Series of Poker has evolved into gambling's most high profile attraction.

Picking the Derby winner is the hot topic of conversation in Las Vegas sports books, and when the starting gate springs open to send the field of 3-year-olds on their way in the first leg of the Triple Crown, thoroughbred racing will once again be king of the sporting world, even if only for a fleeting two minutes.

Playing slot machines and casino table games is far different from handicapping the races, but because the pursuits share the common thread of gambling, casinos and race tracks have become what can best be described as "strange bedfellows".

Derby Day at Churchill, however, is woven in the very fabric of Americana. The gamble takes a back seat to the pageantry and spectacle, something that the casino gambling industry will likely never be able to emulate.

If you watch the Kentucky Derby and reflect on the days not so long ago when the only legal state-regulated gambling outside of Nevada took place at America's horse racing tracks, think about how far gambling has come in this country.

Is horse racing and casino gambling under one roof a good mix, or are racetrack casinos merely a convenient way to expand state regulated gaming?

Certainly horse racing has everything to gain and nothing to lose. A portion of the revenues generated by the casino gambling component of racino operations go toward supporting horse racing programs.

Pari-mutuel wagering on horse races and casino style gambling are entirely different activities.

One of the great appeals of betting on horse racing is the cerebral input that serious handicappers use to select winners.

Computer programs and the availability of advanced statistical information make pari-mutuel wagering a studious pursuit in contrast to the 100 percent luck factor associated will all casino games with the exception of blackjack and poker.

BONUS ROUND-UP

AMERISTAR: Today is opening day the Heartland Poker Tour’s 12-day tournament run at the East Chicago property. Scheduled to continue daily through May 15, the festivities will kick off with the No Limit Hold’em “Monster Stack” tournament which offers a $200,000 guaranteed prize pool for a $350 buy-in. The Main Event will start on Thursday, May 10. This centerpiece of the schedule is expected to generate a total prize pool in excess of half a million dollars for a $1,650 buy-in. Complete information, as well as the availability of special room rates at Ameristar’s award-winning hotel, is available at hptpoker.com.

BLUE CHIP: The day beer lovers from all around the Midwest have been waiting for is Saturday (May 5). The 8th annual Blue Chip Brewfest, featuring specialties to sample from 65 breweries, will take place in the first floor parking garage. The top ticket is the $99 Brewmaster pass which includes a luncheon in the Orleans Ballroom with Josh Deth, owner of Revolution Brewing, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Next is the $75 VIP pass which includes access to additional beers in the Sam’s Town Ballroom, from noon to 2 p.m. General admission is $45 for sampling from 1:30  to 5 p.m. A designated river pass is available for $15 and includes complimentary specialty soda and water. Tickets are available at The Gift Box in the pavilion or at ticketmaster.com.

FOUR WINDS: Start earning entries for the $200,000 “Wheels & Waves” promotion which offers prizes of Chevy Silverado trucks, a pair of Yamaha jet skis, and over $40,000 cash on May 27. Hourly drawings will be held from noon to 10 p.m. at both the New Buffalo and South Bend locations. Two winners will be chosen each hour up to 7 p.m. to win $1,000 in cash. Three $5,000 winners will be selected at 8 p.m. The grand prizes will be awarded at 9 p.m. followed by a last chance drawing at 10 p.m. where a $10,000 winner will be drawn at each property. Winners must be present. Please visit the W Club promotions center for all the details.

HARRAH’S JOLIET: There’ll be plenty of fun taking place in the promotions area on Thursdays in May and June with $100,000 “Zoomball” at center stage. Before the promotion is over, up to $900,000 in cash could be awarded to lucky players. Tier-based entries can be earned on the days of the promotion to qualify for hourly drawings that will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Ten winners at each drawing will be selected to play the game and have a chance at winning the top prize of $100,000. Visit Total Rewards for complete details.

HORSESHOE: The “Red, White, and Vroom” promotion, which features $65,000 in prizes including an all-new 2018 BMW X2, is underway. There will be punchboard finalists drawings conducted on Saturday (May 5), and again on Saturday, May 12, at 10 p.m. both days. The finale drawings will take place on Saturday, May 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. The car will be given away at 9:30 p.m. Total Rewards members can start earning entries now and activate them on the days of the promotion.

AJESTIC STAR: Saturday evening, May 12, is the perfect opportunity to celebrate Mother’s Day a little early with that special lady in your life with a blockbuster “trip-down-memory-lane” concert organized by Krunchtime Productions. An all-star cast of R&B musical artists whose works were at the top of the charts in the '70s will take you on a nostalgic journey, including Tony Strong and the Intruders (“I’ll Always Love My Momma”), Maurice Jackson’s Independents (“Leaving Me”), The Delfonics Revue featuring Greg Hills (“La La La I Love You”), and Chicago’s own Teresa Griffin. Tickets are $35 per person and may be purchased through krunchtimepremothersdayconcert.evenbrite.com. Doors open at 7 p.m. The concert is from 8 to 11 p.m. For more information or to make hotel reservations please call 773-818-5406 or 219-977-7777.

Opinions are solely those of the writer. Reach him at jgbrokopp1@gmail.com

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