By Bill Finley
The great debate of late in horse racing is whether not having sports betting at bricks and mortar racetracks will help or hurt handle. With the first meaningful set of data now available, the answer is neither.
The 2018 meeting at Monmouth Park, the second racetrack in the country to offer sports betting, concluded Sunday and the numbers show a pattern that suggests there was little to no crossover between sports bettors and horseplayers.
Average total daily handle for the entire 52-day meet was $3,383,872, 2.1% off of last year's average of $3,457,379. Like many tracks in the Northeast, Monmouth was hit hard by rain and had 80 scheduled grass races run on the dirt.
But the more pertinent number is how did Monmouth's on-track handle fare in 2018 versus 2017 on the days after the sports book opened? To get as accurate a number as possible, the TDN did not count Friday cards during June 2017 because the track did not operate on Fridays in 2018. The same goes for Thursday cards during August 2018, as there was no live racing on Thursdays in 2017. July 4, 2018 was also eliminated from the equation because the track did not run on July 4 last year.
That leaves 35 racing dates where there is an-apples-to-apples comparison and the numbers came out almost exactly the same. In 2018, daily average on-track handle during those 35 days was $427,701. In 2017, it was $445,524. The difference is just 4%. Sports betting began at Monmouth June 14, and, at the time, Monmouth's business for the year was up as the wet weather had yet to hit.
For the entire meet, on-track handle was down 2.2%.
“We got off to a great start, which was unfortunately dampened by the rainy conditions we had to deal with throughout the summer and right up until our final two days of racing,” said Dennis Drazin, Chairman and CEO of Darby Development LLC, operators of Monmouth Park. “We're proud of the quality of the racing we were able to offer once again and we're encouraged moving forward with the advent of sports betting as part of the fabric of what Monmouth Park has to offer to our patrons.”
Perhaps the only troubling numbers to come out of the Monmouth meet is how pari-mutuel handle fared last weekend, which featured the first week of NFL games plus a robust schedule of college games. On-track handle over those two days this year averaged $308,558 as opposed to $435,808 in 2017. That could mean horseplayers couldn't resist plunking down some of their money on football games or it could have been a matter of Monmouth losing the weekend turf races this year, when it did not the year before.