Handle Drops by 3.7% in 2023 as Purses Also Take a Slight Dip

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According to data released Friday by Equibase, handle in 2023 fell by $447,759,362 for a decline of 3.7 percent. Had handle not rebounded in December, which saw a 6.62% increase, the figures would have looked much worse.

Outside of the COVID year of 2020, this was the steepest decline based on percentage of handle since 2011. A total of $11,658,624,859 was wagered in 2023.

“I think we got quite a blip coming out of the pandemic when we were the only game in town,” said Marshall Gramm, an economics professor, horseplayer and the managing partner of Ten Strike Stable. “Now, I think we are feeling the real competition from sports betting. It's proliferated everywhere and at such a cheaper price point. Then we have small field sizes and the quality of the product is deteriorating. A lot of things have come together. The game is getting ever tougher for the real hardcore weekend warriors who would handle a couple hundred thousand to a million a year. They're finding this market to be a lot tougher. It's shark eats shark out there.”

In a surprising development, U.S. purses fell from $1,309,888,791 to $1,305,772,102, for a decline of .31 percent. With so much money being funneled into purses accounts from alternative forms of gambling, purses rose by 35.8% in 2021, the year after COVID. They were up 10.9 percent in 2022. With the casino market pretty saturated in this country, massive year-over-year increases in purses may be a thing of the past.

There was a reduction of 5.48% in the category of U.S. Race Days and a dip of 3.34 percent in U.S. starts.

In a somewhat encouraging development, the average field size actually showed a slight increase from 7.3 to 7.43.

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