Summary:

DerbyJackpot combines the feel of casual social gaming with real life betting on horse tracks across the country. Thanks to a legal exception bets on horse-racing, the company is one of the few that can offer online gambling in the US.

Bosses are going to love this one. A website goes live today that lets people go to racetracks across the country and make real bets using a goofy, cartoon-like interface. The arrival of DerbyJackpot, which may throw office productivity for a loop, represents the latest effort by the tech industry to turn social gaming into full-blown gambling.

We saw a preview of DerbyJackpot in November and now the pony game is live in 25 states. It works by letting players put small bets on horse races around the country and then letting them watch the race through a live video feed. Unlike the complicated race forms of real-world horse-betting, DerbyJackpot has a cartoon-like feel that invites casual players to make a simple “Granny Bet” starting at $1 or even a ten-cent “Dime Bet” on multiple horses. It looks like this:

Derby Jackpot screenshot

As you can see above, the site also has social media features that lets friends or co-workers banter online as they wait for Old Dobbin to cross the finish line. Players can pay into their account with credit card or through online payment system Dwolla, which lets them cash out instantly; for now, the maximum bet is $20.

DerbyJackpot has a frivolous feel but it’s backed by serious economists and computer scientists as well as a mysterious “billionaire investor.” It is also playing for high stakes because the U.S. online gaming and gambling industry now stands at a strange crossroads.

Recall that, a few years back, the U.S. government cracked down on offshore poker operations like Full Tilt Poker, leaving American players with few outlets for online gambling. At the same time, flailing online social gaming companies like Zynga are hoping that gambling will save their skin as users tire of inane activities like Farmville.

Into this void have stepped companies like Doubledown, Betable and DerbyJackpot, which are partnering with casino companies in the hopes of turning gamers into gamblers. For now, most of the action is taking place in the U.K. and other countries while the companies badger state governments to change the gambling laws.

The companies got a glimpse of hope last year when the Department of Justice changed its position and said it would permit online gambling in states — so long as states in question passed laws for the gambling to take place within their borders. For now, that’s not happening and, we’re guessing, not much is going to change so long as powerful politicians like Nevada’s Harry Reid and New Jersey’s Chris Christie can protect their home states’ casino interests.

In the case of DerbyJackpot, the company has found a legal loophole because the laws are different when it comes to betting on horses. This because, unlike casinos, there is no “house” and players only bet against each other; in DerbyJackpot, the odds for each race are set by the track in question. While some professional off-track-betting parlors are offering online bets, DerbyJackpot says it’s the only one to target small-scale casual gamers. The company offers a mobile site too and hopes to partner with Facebook in the future.

The site is live in 25 states and, the founders say, it will soon be in about 12 others. Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia are among the states that restrict online horse betting.

(Image by Alexia Khruscheva via Shutterstock)

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