Racing fans daunted by the security and crowds expected at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday can bet the Preakness Stakes legally from the comfort of their PCs.
Several online wagering services will be accepting bets on the entire Pimlico card that day, part of a booming online niche that the racing industry hopes will help revive the sport.
"This year the tracks have really embraced online account wagering," said David Marshall, chief executive of one of the biggest such firms, Youbet.com, which has a marketing agreement with Pimlico.
Youbet.com has been accepting Preakness wagers for four years, but this year introduced a browser-based program to replace one that required a CD. The system, at www.youbet.com, provides handicapping information, accepts wagers from pre-established accounts, and provides a webcast of the race.
Because a CD is no longer required, an account can be set up in a few minutes over the Internet or phone, at 888-YOU-BET8. A deposit of at least $25 must be made with a credit card or checking account.
An account holder must be 18 or older and live in a state, like Maryland, where wagering is legal.
Marshall said last year's Preakness Day set a record for Youbet.com that stood until this year's Kentucky Derby, when $1 million was wagered. About 2,000 accounts were established in the week preceding the Derby, he said.
TVG, better known for its cable broadcasts of races, also has a companion, browser-based service that accepts wagers online, www.TVGNetwork.com. "It's one of the four biggest days of the year for us," said TVG spokesman John Hindman.
TVG requires a minimum deposit of $50 in a wagering account. As with Youbet.com, a TVG account can be established by phone, at 888-PLAYTVG. Hindman advises against waiting until race day because of possible delays.
Online wagering is gaining acceptance. Reports filed with the Oregon Racing Commission, which oversees a number of account-wagering services including Youbet.com and TVG, show $194.4 million wagered last year, up from $5.7 million in 2000.
If you miss the Preakness on television, you can watch it from the comfort of your PC as well. NBCSports.com plans to replay the race on its Web site.