Sportsbooks around the United States and around the world for that matter have been dealt a body-blow the last two months thanks to COVID-19's effect on casinos and sports in general. Well, you can't blame horse racing for the historic, jaw-dropping revenue declines for the sports betting business. The ponies, despite an abbreviated schedule across the US actually saw increased interest on the days that horses went to the starting gates.
Equibase, the industry leader in providing horse racing information is out with some numbers on just how well the horse racing sector did in the month of March. The report identified just how much horse racing contributed to a sports betting industry that was desperately short on action and overrun with panic and pessimism. Equibase altered its reporting process for this time in history to reflect its impact month-to-month rather than releasing its numbers on a quarterly basis.
The overall numbers of horse races predictably declined in the month of March with the global slowdown of life as we knew it. The number of races over the month dropped 71.4% to 746 and the number of racing days was limited to just 85, a drop of 72.7%. That is a lot of horse racing that was taken off the track.
But the overall handle for the month didn't exactly reflect the incredible effect of the global shutdown. The handle dropped only 24.4% to $639.4 million which is a respectable number proportionally considering the loss of race-days, the cancelling of some of the biggest thoroughbred races on the calendar and the number of tracks that saw no racing at all.
“It was similar to the 20s and 30s, when horse racing was the only game in town,” said New York Racing Association chief revenue officer Tony Allevato.
Per-day racing handle are the story
Despite the race-days lost, the Equibase study identified a spike in the amount of money that was wagered on the days that there was indeed racing. Each day the US saw horse racing on the calendar resulted in a 176.5% increase in money bet over the same period last year. An average of $7.5 million was taken in by racebooks per race-day during March, up from $2.7 million per day over the same period last year.
To put it in perspective, if the number of racing days was on par with the number over the same period last year, the handle would have been $2.3 billion from March. That $2.3 billion would have obliterated records for the industry.
TwinSpires reports healthy growth
One of the most recognizable brands in the US Horse Racing industry, TwinSpires is out with some impressive figures for its first quarter. The company reported an 8.3% growth in its overall handle from March 16, when the rest of the sporting world effectively shut down over coronavirus concerns. Their handle came it at $329.8 million thanks to an 11.6% increase in active players.
Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said in a call with investors: “Our TwinSpires business, within the online wagering segment, has grown significantly as more individuals bet online, particularly with so many brick-and-mortar betting outlets closed and, perhaps, with fewer entertainment options in general. Even as the number of racetracks that are actively running races has declined, TwinSpires really capitalized. This has been even more true as we’ve progressed through the second quarter.”
The future of horse racing in the US
Horse racing has always had a strong foundation in the US. The acceptance of betting on the horses came much earlier than any, if not all other sports in the country. Now, horse racing is enjoying a bit of a resurgence with the COVID-19 pandemic putting a stop for virtually every other sport around the world.
With increased exposure, horse racing’s next challenge is to keep up the momentum gained the las couple of months. How sportsbooks do that is anyone’s guess but if there is one industry that boasts the creativity and innovation to do so, it is the emerging legal gambling business in the US.