The Real Sport at the Kentucky Derby: Gambling

More

> derby_gambling_post.jpg

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images


The 136th Kentucky Derby takes place tomorrow, and racing fans are analyzing every element of the competition, from which horse is likely to win to what clothes to wear and what food to eat on the sidelines.

But historically, The Atlantic has focused on one particular element of the Derby: gambling. A 1925 article from the magazine lamented betting's influence on the event:

When the object is primarily to beat the bookmaker rather than the other horse, then the entire color changes. Sport becomes a sordid business, and the sportsman becomes only a sport. It is then that the horseman begins to compare so unfavorably with his horse.

Several decades later, Robert F. Kennedy wrote an essay bemoaning the state of gambling in the country as a whole, and singled out horse-racing as part of the problem. He chastised gamblers for contributing to a range of societal ills in a 1962 article called "The Baleful Influence of Gambling":

They are pouring dimes and dollars day by day into a vast stream of cash which finances most illegal underworld activities. The housewife, the factory worker, and the businessman will tell you that they are against such things as narcotics, bootlegging, prostitution, gang murders, the corruption of public officials and police, and, the bribery of college athletes. And yet this is where their money goes.

Despite Kennedy's protests, gambling remains a central part of the Kentucky Derby, though it is on the decline. According to the New York Times, bets were down 5.3 percent at last year's run. Still, the total handle was $155,969,770—a whole lot of "dimes and dollars."

For an overview of The Atlantic's coverage of the Derby over the years, click here.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

In a series of candid video interviews, women talk about self-image, self-judgment, and what it means to love their bodies


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

Just In