Horse betting continues to decline in the US, as nationwide handle reached $1.06 billion in July. It marks nearly a 7% drop over the same month last year when horseplayers spent $1.14 billion.
Year-over-year handle has now declined for 10 consecutive months, according to figures released this week by Equibase.
While horse betting wanes on a national scale, one Midwest track is bucking that trend. Horseshoe Indianapolis, a Caesars-owned property some 25 miles outside the city center, increased handle by 45% through its first 50 days of live racing in 2023.
“We believe in our product,” Rachel McLaughlin, racing analyst and production manager at Horseshoe Indianapolis, told LSR earlier this summer. “Of course, we want to have the highest handle, but we do what racing fans and bettors like. It has been working well for us.”
Horse betting dollars increase for some
In the week ending August 13, Horseshoe Indianapolis handled $7.6 million in bets, up 35% compared to the same week last year when horseplayers spent $5.6 million on races at the Indiana track.
Horseshoe Indianapolis adjusted its live racing dates this year to avoid competing against other tracks running at the same time. It races Tuesday through Thursday, with select Fridays and Saturdays throughout the season.
John Dooley, track announcer at Horseshoe Indianapolis, told LSR for two Thursdays, July 12 and 19, the track averaged $2.8 million in handle. It was the second-highest daily handle in the US, behind only Saratoga.
Ellis Park in Kentucky increased its handle for the week ending August 13, too. This year’s weekly total reached $6.6 million compared to $6.1 million during the same week in 2022.
Dollars declining for others
The New York Racing Association (NYRA) is one of the most popular US horse betting circuits throughout the year.
It handled $90.4 million the week ending August 13 at Saratoga. It was a 14% dip over the same week last year ($105.2 million.)
Del Mar in San Diego, another popular summer racing circuit, saw its handle drop 6% during the same week this year. Horseplayers spent $47.2 million compared to $50.2 million in 2022.
Comparing Indiana sports bettors to horseplayers
According to data provided by Horseshoe Indianapolis, total handle for the track reached $151 million in 2019.
It is projected to handle over $300 million for the 2023 season, which began in April and goes through mid-November.
To compare, LSR data shows Indiana sports betting handle reaching $224 million in June and $203.7 million in July. Sports bettors in the Hoosier State routinely spend more than $400 million per month throughout football season.
Caesars ‘pushing’ horse betting app
McLaughlin admits horse betting is not as popular as US sports betting, or Indiana sports betting even. However, she believes the work Horseshoe Indianapolis and Caesars has done is bringing more attention to their product.
“The days we race, it is not for a crowd. We are not in the middle of the city where people can walk to the track,” she said. “Everyone bets online now, and we tailored our product to that. Caesars (leadership) is pushing the racebook app and willing to market that.”
Dooley agreed, adding, “We have been growing not only our thoroughbred handle, but with the Caesars app, the Caesars Sportsbook app, the racebook app, we are reaching out to a lot of players in all kinds of gaming.”
NYRA is also implementing a more digital-first approach to a redesigned Belmont Park coming to New York in a few years.
Horseplayer-friendly changes making a difference
In addition to adjusting its race dates, Horseshoe Indianapolis made other horseplayer-friendly changes this year. It reduced takeout, which is the percentage the track takes off the top of each betting pool as its commission. It can be as high as 30% on certain wagers at tracks across the country.
Horseshoe Indianapolis now offers an industry-low 11.99% takeout on its Pick-5 pools. The bet requires a horseplayer to select the winner of five consecutive races, typically the first and last five races each day, similar to a parlay in sports betting.
The track also adjusted certain rules and its wagering menu after hearing from horseplayers.
“A lot of people on social media do not understand the backend of the industry, there is a process to things,” McLaughlin said. “(Management) is open to listening to potential changes. If we make a case for it, (management) is willing to take it to the (gaming) commission and get it changed.”
Signature day for Indiana horse betting
Horseshoe Indianapolis only races on select Saturdays to avoid competing with more popular tracks. Its signature day, Indiana Derby Day, on July 8 this year, saw a spike in handle.
It handled $8.5 million, a substantial increase over pre-pandemic figures in 2019 when Indiana Derby Day handle landed just over $4 million.
“Attention to detail,” Dooley said. “It is those little things that we have been doing that make all the difference.”