By Bill Finley
According to figures released Thursday by Equibase, a robust $1,309,837,841 in purse money was paid out during the year in the U.S., an increase of 10.92% and an all-time record for the sport.
Total handle on U.S. racing in 2022 was $12,108,807,335, a decrease of 0.87% when compared to 2021 numbers. The total bet in 2021 was $12,215,598,838.
“Thoroughbred racing purses and pari-mutuel handle continued to exhibit strength in 2022,” NTRA President and CEO Tom Rooney said in a statement. “Purses were up double-digits year-over year and reached an all-time high thanks in part to contributions from other gaming sources. Pari-mutuel handle was nearly equal to 2021 and the second highest since 2009. These business trends occurred during a year of unprecedented growth in legal, state regulated sports betting. The 2023 gaming landscape promises to be more competitive than ever for the sports wagering dollar. It also represents a huge opportunity to introduce pari-mutuel wagering and the sport of Thoroughbred racing to a vast new audience if we as an industry embrace the challenge.”
While wagering appears to be going through a period of relative stagnation, purses have never been better. The Jockey Club's Fact Book records purse data going back to 1988 when $676 million was paid out. Purses have nearly doubled since then and the 10.92% increase was the largest for the sport in a non-COVID year since the Jockey Club began collecting data.
Average purses paid out per day were $319,161, a 10.06% increase over 2021.
That purses are up in a year where handle fell is indicative of racing's increasing reliance on revenues from slot machines, Historical Horse Racing machines and other casino games. Kentucky, in particular, has seen huge increases in purses thanks to the popularity of the Historical Horse Racing Machines.
For reasons that remain unclear, betting fell significantly during the final quarter of the year and during December. Handle was off by 5.54% during the final quarter and by 7.52% in December.
Despite the drop, the news was not all bad. Handle broke the $12 billion mark for just the second time since 2009. After the betting numbers fell to $10.9 billion in 2020, when COVID-19 played havoc on racing schedules, handle was up 11.8% in 2021. Many have speculated that the increase was due to the sport attracting new customers while bettors were shut out from playing other sports during the pandemic.
The sport still has a long way to go before it can equal the type of handle figures that were being posted in the early 2000s. A record of $15.18 billion was wagered in 2003, the second year during a three-year stretch where handle eclipsed the $15 billion mark.
In the case of most other parameters, there was little movement between 2022 and 2021 figures. There were 33,453 races run during the year, a decline of just 0.33%. The total number of starts was 244,133, a drop of 1.31%. The average field size was 7.30, a slight drop from 2021 when the number was 7.37. The 7.30 number represented the smallest average field size since 1950 when the Jockey Club started keeping records.