Toto (The Israel Sports Betting Board) last week launched horse race betting in Israel. The new game brand, called Racer, brings Israel into an international consortium of horse race betting in the UK and Ireland. This “pool” is led by GBI Racing of the UK, a provider of TV broadcasting and media services, racing content, data and promotions to international wagering operators worldwide.

Toto CEO Itshak Lasry places Israel’s first horse racing bet in 2000 years.

Racer offers a wide range of daily betting options and enables Israeli “punters” to bet simultaneously on the same races as their counterparts around the world, with the same options and odds. The races and all relevant information are broadcasted live from GBI center in London on screens at the points of sale and on the Toto website. Races are also  translated and localized in real time, so as to make betting easier for non-English speakers.

Toto plans to open 150 Racer-branded dedicated points of sale around the country by year’s end. Betting is also available through Internet and cellphones.

Although Israelis are fast to adapt new games, the main challenge, according to Toto Chairman Zach Fishbein, was “to customize a new gaming platform especially in a country with no horse race tradition.”

Whoa, there — hang on just a minute. No tradition of horse racing?

Horse racing made headlines here under the Roman Empire at the Hippodrome in Caesarea, where betting was widespread. Arabian horses that have wandered this region since time immemorial were bred for racing by the Ottomans (they had a Hippodrome, too).

Under the British Mandate, horses were ridden for traditional hunts as well as into battle. But of course, the real deal in this region was — and still is — camel racing.

Photos by Zvi Oroshkes (Oron).

Yes, camel racing. If you’re lucky enough to access television from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates or Oman, you can catch a glimpse of this sport, one that is popular throughout the Middle East. Turns out that despite their foul temperaments, camels are racing material, running at speeds up to 65 km/h (18 m/s; 40 mph) in short sprints and able to maintain a cruising speed of 40 km/h (11 m/s; 25 mph) for an hour.

Traditionally, camels were ridden by child jockeys but due to allegations of human rights abuses children are being phased out in favor of a device known as the robot jockey. The use of this artificial rider hasn’t dampened crowd enthusiasm for the sport one bit.

Would Israelis, so quick to adopt Western wagering technologies and games, bend to Mid-Eastern regional tastes and take a chance on the humped quadruped? And would GBI Racing, which prides itself on providing access to betters on “the highest quality, most renowned and respected thoroughbred racing content in the world”, be willing to offer bets on the Ships of the Desert?

Don’t know, but it’s fun to entertain the thought.