By Bill Finley
According to figures released Wednesday by Equibase, $12,218,407,637 was wagered on horse racing in the U.S. in 2021. The figure marks the first time betting has topped $12 billion since 2009 when $12.315 billion was bet.
“Against an extraordinarily difficult backdrop, the resiliency of Thoroughbred racing was on full display in 2021, as we concluded the year with significant growth in purses and total handle of more than $12 billion, the highest since 2009,” NTRA President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Rooney said in a statement. “We thank our customers for their ongoing support, as their wagering dollars continue to fuel our industry. As we turn the page to 2022, we look forward to the beginning of a new era for U.S. Thoroughbred racing with the launch of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) and an even greater focus on equine safety and welfare and the integrity of America's oldest sport.”
Wagering peaked in 2003 when $15.18 billion was bet.
Wagering was up 11.86% over 2020, when $10,922,936,290 was bet during a year in which the pandemic kept several tracks closed for parts of the year. A better comparison may be 2019, when $11,033,824,363 was wagered. The 2021-versus-2019 numbers show a 10.74% increase.
While the increase in wagering was likely the result of several factors, the hope within the industry is that gamblers turned their attention to racing when COVID-19 shut down the four major sports in 2020 and that many of those players have continued to wager on the sport.
There were 4,072 race days in 2021 versus 3,302 in the prior year. The average amount wagered per race day dropped, from $3,307,976 to $3,000,591, a decline of 9.29%.
Purses also showed a dramatic increase during the year. Total U.S. purses for the year were $1,180,853,677, a 35.77% increase over 2020. The amount of purse money paid out when compared to 2019 showed a slight increase of 1.11%.
Average purses per race day were $273,871 in 2021, a 9.91% increase from 2020 numbers and a 9.87% increase over 2019.
Field sizes continued to decline in 2021. The average field included 7.37 runners, down 7.2% from 2020 when the average field size was 7.94. Average field size in 2019 was 7.53. As recently as 2009, the average field size was 8.24.