By Bill Finley
With only a handful of tracks still racing due to the coronavirus, wagering on the sport took a huge hit in the month of March, falling by 22.58% over 2019 figures. A total of $731 million was bet during the month, a $214 million drop from 2019 figures.
The numbers were released Friday by Equibase.
“Obviously, it was a tough month,” said NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop. “As damning as these number appear, the No. 1 priority right now is the health and safety of our employees. We're like virtually every other business in the country. We have to weather this storm and be ready to come back as soon as possible.”
While some tracks have stayed open and have compiled impressive handle figures, the lack of available races is what drove handle down during the month. During March 2019, there were 2,678 races run as opposed to 1,787 last month. In 2019, there were 310 race days during March, compared to 214 this year.
Purses also took a major hit in March. The 2019 figure for the month was $79 million and it fell to $55 million in 2020.
As of Friday, there were just five tracks still racing in the country in Oaklawn Park, Gulfstream, Tampa Bay Downs, Fonner Park and Will Rogers Downs. On the final Saturday of March, 2019, 17 thoroughbred tracks ran. Considering that most tracks did not begin to shut down until mid-month, the month-by-month betting figures will certainly look a lot worse in April than they did in March.
“How is racing going to come back from this? That's something a lot of businesses are already talking about,” Waldrop said. “It's really a question of how is the country going to come back and how is the business of the country going to come back and when is that going to happen? Those are questions that nobody can answer with any certainty right now.”
Entering March, handle on racing on the year was showing impressive gains. The total handle in January and February this year was $1.778 billion, an 11.8% increase over January and February 2019.
Waldrop said that the NTRA's first priority right now is helping people in racing take advantage of the government programs that have been made available to help individuals and businesses affected by the coronavirus.
“We are focused primarily on making sure everyone in the industry who has suffered economic consequences is taking advantage of all the emergency stimulus packages that are out there at the federal, state and local levels,” he said. “There is still a lot of work to do to help people hunker down for the foreseeable future. It's important that people keep as many employees as possible working while making sure they are doing all that is necessary to keep everyone safe. We are focused on those short-term issues. Soon, we will be turning our attention on how best to come back from this. Right now, I can't say with any certainty how we are going to do that. I have not heard anybody give me a cogent explanation as to how any business in this country is going to come back or the timetable for doing so. There is a lot of work to be done.”