‘Digital horse-racing’ trend offers thrill of owning a racehorse online

Less than three weeks away from the 2022 Kentucky Derby, there’s an online community that celebrates the sports every day... in the metaverse.
Published: Apr. 22, 2022 at 12:11 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Less than three weeks away from the 2022 Kentucky Derby, there’s an online community that celebrates the sport of horse racing every day... in the metaverse.

Digital horse-racing has grown in popularity over the past few years, offering anyone with some spending money the chance to buy, sell, breed and race digital horses.

The horses are essentially non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, each with a unique digital signature.

“I’m happy, just playing for fun and taking what I can get along the way,” Evan Young, a player on platform ZED RUN said.

Young is a pharmacist in Northern Indiana, but he grew up in Bullitt County, Ky., often attending races at Churchill Downs. Now, he uses the cryptocurrency ethereum to run his ZED RUN stable.

“Growing up in the Louisville area, horse-racing is a holiday; we got off school for Oaks,” Young said. “I’m no expert, but I love the culture of it.”

Beginning in September with an initial investment of $600 on three horses, Young said he’s made “all in all, between racing and flips, probably a couple thousand dollars.”

For him though, it’s only a hobby, not a money-making venture. He warns that digital horse-racing is rarely lucrative for the casual player.

“You have to know the horse, what you’re entering, and you have to know the field,” Young said.

He referenced several player-created online resources for players.

“There’s a lot of community built around it, and that’s been equally fun to build,” Young said.

ZED RUN’s own general manager, Ted Gay, grew up in Lexington and used to work at Churchill Downs on the TwinSpires mobile betting platform.

These days, he brings the love of Derby spirit to the new digital platform.

“It works just like the real world,” Young said. “Each horse has its unique DNA or unique set of attributes.”

Those attributes will determine how the horse races and breeds, something its owner must determine as she plays and gathers data.

Some of these digital horses sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Others, perhaps for beginners, sell for $20-30, Gay said.

Likewise, some races are free to enter, while others cost hundreds of dollars to run in.

Gay said he can’t help but try to infuse ZED RUN with inspiration from Churchill.

“Those elements that make the Derby special: the post-parade, the walk over, ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’” Gay said. “These are all such incredible attributes and elements that go into the pot that is the Derby, and we’re trying to apply those to ZED. But on the flip side, it’s hard to recreate that magic.”

With talk of the Derby comes a conversation about betting on those famous horses, begging the question: is digital horse-racing gambling?

“It’s not gambling in our opinion,” Gay said. “This is a game of skill.”

After eight months of play, Young said he agrees.

“In my eyes, I don’t consider it gambling because there is so much data out there,” Young said, also calling it a “game of skill.”

ZED RUN, just one platform for digital horse-racing, boasts more than 100,000 players and more than $4 million handed out in prize money.

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WAVE — Louisville and Southern Indiana's NBC affiliate. Follow us on Twitter & Instagram @wave3news.(WAVE)

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