By Bill Finley
According to figures supplied by Equibase, total wagering on U.S. races rose slightly in June, a welcome development after handle plummeted in March, April and May, the months when racing was most impacted by the coronavirus.
A total of $998,448,300 was bet during the month, a 0.76% increase over 2019 numbers. Handle was off by 30.16& percent in May, 24.42% in April and 22.8% in March.
The improved handle numbers were the result of more racetracks opening up, albeit most without fans allowed in the stands. The number of races run in June was 2,485, while 3,905 were held during June 2019. While those numbers represent a 36.36% decline, they are an improvement over previous months. In May and in April, the number of races run was off by 70% or more.
At least in June, there was a leveling off of handle. Virtually the same amount was bet during June 2020 as was wagered in 2019, but it was spread among fewer tracks. That appears to be one of the reasons handle was up sharply during the month at some tracks. The average amount wagered on a racing program in June was $3.3 million, a robust 67.6% increase from a year ago.
Field size also appears to be driving handle. With fewer opportunities available to horses, the average field size in June was 8.11. It was 7.10 a year ago. During the second quarter, which includes April, May and June, average field size was up 16.55%.
With fewer races available, the amount of purse money paid out during the month fell by 39.7%, from $115,194,834 to $69,463,605.
The second quarter numbers are a better indicator of the toll the coronavirus has taken on the sport. A total of $2.5 billion was bet during the quarter, an 18.85% decline from a year earlier when the amount wagered was $3.1 billion. The number of race days declined by 59.68% and purses fell by 62.47%.
For the year, the picture doesn’t look as bleak as one might expect for a sport that has had to deal with a pandemic. Handle for the year has been $5,055,510, a 10.88% decline from 2019 figures. Purses for the year are down 40.41%.