Average Handle Per Race Day Jumps 176%
Legal Sports Report

Sidelined Sports Bettors Pony Up in April To Boost US Horse Racing Market

horse racing

It looks like betting on US thoroughbred horse racing helped fill the gap for some sports bettors during the month of April, according to Equibase.

Handle fell 24.4% to $639.4 million last month compared to last April, according to the report. But that’s a much lower drop than the decline in races and race days with many tracks still shuttered.

Total races fell 71.4% to 746 last month, and race days dropped 72.7% to just 85.

Equibase typically reports US thoroughbred racing figures on a quarterly basis. It moved to monthly to show the effect of the coronavirus pandemic.

Horse racing handle per race day skyrockets

The most telling stat provided by Equibase is the average horse racing handle per race day for last month.

Each race day saw an average of $7.5 million in handle, up 176.5% from the prior year.

So, while overall handle shows a drop, in reality, these races drew much more betting attention than last year.

If the number of race days was equal to last year’s 311, that average handle per race day would equal $2.3 billion in handle for the month.

TwinSpires sees ‘significant’ growth

TwinSpires, one of the best-known deposit wagering websites in the US, has seen a spike in business since sports began to shut down. Handle grew 8.3% in the first quarter to $329.8 million, with active players up 11.6%.

Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen during the company’s first-quarter earnings call:

“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.”

That growth started from March 16 through the end of the month, COO Bill Mudd added. That’s about the time when casinos, tracks and off-track betting facilities began to shutter, forcing bettors online. And it’s also about when most of America realized major sports weren’t returning anytime soon.

“But anecdotally, I can say that we’ve picked up a lot of core horseplayers, but we’ve also picked up a lot of other players now that are playing thoroughbred racing because of all of the sporting events that have been canceled across the world,” Mudd said.

Michigan approves ADW deals

Michigan will begin licensing advanced deposit wagering (ADW) operators that want to partner with Northville Downs, which offers harness racing and simulcast betting.

Of the three biggest ADW sites operating in the US, two of them – BetAmerica and TwinSpires, both owned by Churchill Downs – already list Michigan as a legal state. TVG, owned by the same parent company as FanDuel, is not currently in Michigan.

Operators must pay a $1,000 license fee and provide a plan of operation to the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

There’s no timeline for when the first licenses will be approved, but the agency will work “as quickly as possible” to review applications, Communications Specialist Mary Kay Bean said.

“Many firms already have licenses in other states, which will help the applicants as we review them,” she added.

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- Matthew Waters is a reporter covering legal sports betting and the gambling industry. Previous stops include Fantini Research and various freelance jobs covering professional and amateur sports in Delaware and the Philadelphia area.
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