Online marathon

Finally, horse players are being treated like face cards, kings and queens and Jacks with jobs, instead of deuces and treys.

No gambler has been treated worse than horse players at the live races, or at the average simulcast venue.

Instead of "Welcome to the track. Let me know if there's anything we can do to make your wagering experience more pleasurable," here's what you're more apt to hear.

From a teller: "So the betting machine's stuck. Do I look like a mechanic?"

From track security: "I'm on snack break."

From track marketing: "Come back later, I'm busy betting."

From the track cook: "How am I supposed to know how old it is?"

The only perks most tracks offer is bad coffee; as attendance declines, so does service.

But the business has changed almost overnight. With the emergence of plugs running for small fortunes in slot-spiked purses coast-to-coast and o'er the fruited plain, there's a new air to the horse race wagering game. And it doesn't smell like an unkempt stall. This week you can bet on anything from a claimer in the boonies to the Preakness Stakes while being treated like a major player: Online horse race wagering has gone uptown.

Here's how much the top-line online wagering windows love you: They'll pay you to play. Sign-up cash bonuses range from $50 to $150, depending on how much money you put into play. Flip on the Daily Racing Form website, or TwinSpires, or TVG, or BetAmerica and it's as though the introductions are being offered by Lady Godiva herself: "Welcome. We're legit. We're hygienic. Sit back. Relax. Bet now. Bet often. If you need anything, just pucker up, I'm only a whistle away."

Not only is betting online legal in most states, it's made out to be almost patriotic. Churchill Downs, the Form, America, that's a lot of clout behind these online wagering sites. Here's what you get with an online account: Live races. A simple betting screen that works. Printed records that show the IRS field agent that you most certainly did lose that much.

Money can be deposited into an account by check or credit card or wire transfer. Credit card deposits are charged a fee, like an ATM. And whereas the company line shown on your credit card or bank statement doesn't say "Feed the Waifs," it doesn't say "Psycho Gamblers Unlimited" either. The company receiving the deposit for horse race gambling funds usually says your money went to something innocuous like General Business Inc.

Here's what you don't get playing the horses online.

Broken glass in the parking lot.


Old barbecue sauce on the betting screen.

Surrounded by drunks.

Sometimes you can't bet tracks in your home state. And some online sites try to have a heart, limiting credit card deposits to a certain sum, usually hundreds, without a signed release from the gambler, saying more is OK, I promise I'm not going to lose every penny I have.

The online sites get cuts of wagers made through them.

The more money you put into play, the more perks you get -- free past performances, for example.

Here's the problem: your money is a figure on a screen.

Cash in the pocket is better.

They'll send you a check, or arrange another form of payment, as soon as you hit a button.

But say you started with $50 and are up $20 and think what the heck and go for something big and lose it all.

To play the horses online you have to be content with small profits.

Take $50.

Take $30.

Take $100.

If you can bet anytime, anywhere, day or night, without driving a great distance or wandering through a casino, patience can be learned.

And concerning operations like the Form and TwinSpires supporting online wagering, you can't complain about where the sport is going if you're helping to drive it there.

Preakness picks Wednesday, along with the possible answer to this question: Would a Triple Crown winner propel America to great emotional heights?

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.