Wagering: American Racing’s Top Priority Going Forward

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Sarah Andrew photo

Courtesy Thoroughbred Idea Foundation  

Racing needs a long-term plan which will put the sport on a path to raise handle to nearly $50 billion annually with more than $5 billion held by the industry by 2040.

Sound optimistic?

Falling well short of that goal would still be a monumental accomplishment given we are on track for another year at just $11 billion in handle, and down nearly 50% in the last two decades, adjusted for inflation.

So where are the plans from the industry to start thinking long-term about not just surviving, but thriving, and building a robust, wagering-forward industry?

Horse racing has a tremendous opportunity to lean into a massive culture of betting liberalization, but it has otherwise failed to capitalize on it. Time is still there, and the opportunity is not yet lost.

There is no doubt horsemen should be thankful for the enrichment they’ve received through purses over the last two decades coming by way of slot machines, video lottery terminals, historical horse racing or other revenue sharing from casino-related operations. In many cases, tracks and horsemen lobbied relentlessly for them. It makes sense that they continue to fight for them, but not at the expense of racing’s most obvious source of sustainable revenue–actual wagering on racing.

These significant purse supplements have allowed the industry to minimize the importance of presenting a modern wagering product. Most tracks have not focused on making racing wagering more competitive and most horsemen’s groups have not advocated for meaningful improvements to stoke wagering, either.

In some cases, 90% of prize money has come from subsidized sources beyond racing, wagering on the sport has not seemed as important–a reality which is reflected in annual handle figures over the last 20 years. Many owners and trainers within horsemen’s groups do not possess a detailed understanding of racing wagering. They don’t know what to advocate for to improve their own futures.

This is problematic, because as it relates to prize money for racing, the future is not bright.

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