New game in Fargo brings technology to horse-racing

When investor Paul Singh came through Fargo in mid-June, he, a man who’s heard thousands of pitches for startup ideas from around the world, noted that founders should “find the industries today that have not been tech-enabled. Those are the sexiest businesses.”

We’ve seen success rise from this mentality; with the taxi industry and the introduction of Uber, or the marketplace industry with the transition to e-commerce sites like Amazon.

It’s precisely this type of transformation that Creative Wagering Technologies LLC founders Jonathan Owen and Mark Benrus are hoping to bring to an industry they see as ripe for a tech-awakening: horse-racing.

This week, they are taking their first step forward to tech-enabling the horse industry by opening up their first gaming platform at Sidestreet bar in downtown Fargo.

Horse-racing casino style

The game, called Slots of Races, allows users to bet on live horse races happening around the world from an iPad kiosk. The platform walks you through a three step process on how to wager, and users can decide if they want to place their own bets or allow the computer to intelligently decide.

There’s a “Google mentality, in that they [users] can learn as much or as little as they want,” Owens said. “They can become expert horse racing enthusiasts if they want to, or they can use it like a slot machine.”

Creative Wagering has negotiated all necessary content of up-to-the-second race details at over 200 tracks globally, Owen said. Yes, that is a factor; you can only bet so long as there is a horse race live somewhere in the world. In the future, Creative Wagering may expand to include dog-racing as well.

Their company earns money by taking a percentage of every dollar wagered, Owen said. In horse-racing, a percentage of every dollar wagered goes to the race track, industry legislation taxes, and the operator — in this case, their platform.

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Benrus and Owen have a combined expertise that lends itself to their work with Creative Wagering. Benrus, who invented and patented the game and now holds title of CEO and CFO, has been racing all his life. His father raised and trained horses. Owen spent time working in the gaming industry before joining Creative Wagering as COO. The two brought on Chad Adams as CTO and lead developer to turn the games into reality. Together the team saw an opportunity – and a need for change – in the horse-racing industry.

“As someone that builds tech, it’s rare to find an industry that hasn’t been affected by web technology,” Owen said. “We’re taking this dinosaur that’s about to go extinct and finding a way to rejuvenate it.”

Reviving a multi-billion dollar industry

The horse-racing industry is one that creates thousands of jobs, Owen said. In England alone, the industry is worth 3.45 billion according to a report in 2014. Lately, however, Owen has seen a decline in horse-racing participation.

“People don’t get to the track as much as they used to,” he said “If something doesn’t happen to it [the horse-racing industry] in the next 20 years, it won’t be here 50-60 years from now.”

With Creative Wagering’s platform, they hope to bring horse-racing to a digital platform that allows new crowds and younger generations to enjoy the adrenaline of going to the horse race.

“That’s what I see as something really interesting. When you’re…placing wages, you’re interacting socially,” Owens said. “You’re creating this living breathing entity. It’s not just a flat website, it’s where you truly feel like you’re in a casino.”

horse racing

Classic horse racing.

Owen and Benrus, who are currently based in Florida, were drawn to North Dakota due to its liberties with licensure in horse-racing. North Dakota is one of four states that offers an almost nationwide license, Owen said. In their time in North Dakota, they caught the interest of the owner of Sidestreet bar, who became an investor in the company and opened up the bar as the setting for the first physical location of a betting platform.

The platform is the first of six locations in North Dakota where they will be installing games – from Bismarck, “all the way up to Belcourt and close to the Canadian border,” Owen said.

They also plan to use the floor above Sidestreet and turn it into a call center, where they will hire workers to manage the platforms installed across the country, Owen said.

“We’ve had tremendous support and growth from the tech sector in Fargo,” Owen said.

This week, as live horse racing begins in Fargo at the Horse Race Park in North Dakota, Slots of Races will officially open at Sidestreet. Owen is presenting at 1 Million Cups Fargo, Wednesday at 9:15- 10:15 AM to officially launch the game. Be sure to come and learn more!

Marisa Jackels