Despite difficult year, Charles Town wagering per race continues strong growth

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Dec. 27, 2020

Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, which wrapped up its 2020 meet Dec. 19, reported that gross pari-mutuel handle on live racing for the year was 50% higher than in 2009 even though it offered 100 fewer racing programs.

The gain resulted from continued increases in wagering per race—a statistic the racetrack has been publishing regularly in recent years. The 2020 figure marked the sixth consecutive year wagering per race has grown, according to statistics released by Charles Town.

The $231,518 bet per race at Charles Town in 2020 was up 48% from the previous record high of $156,311 set in 2019. Charles Town nearly tripled its wagering volume per race versus 2009 when the average was $80,980.

Handle per starter in 2020 was $30,585, up 43% from $21,375 in 2019 and an increase of 135% from $12,994 in 2014, according to track statistics.

“(This year) was obviously challenging for everyone but the job our whole team did in helping us not only return from a shutdown earlier in the year but allowing us to achieve business volumes for racing that are unprecedented in our history has been remarkable,” said Erich Zimny, Charles Town Vice President of Racing and Sports Operations. “We’re also grateful for our fans and horseplayers who continue to support our product, our industry partners that have been critical to our success, and the Charles Town HBPA, which was very cooperative in a year that was as challenging for the local horsemen anyone (because of COVID-19 restrictions).”

Because racing was suspended from mid-March through late May, management had to reschedule the Grade II Charles Town Classic for a later date. The track chose to run the Classic and the Grade III Charles Town Oaks—normally run in September—on the last Friday of August. The stakes program was held beginning at 5 p.m., and the result was total handle of $5,603,606—a little more than $100,000 short of the mark for the largest single-card handle in track history, established in 2019.

The West Virginia Racing Commission in December approved the track’s 2021 stakes schedule, and Charles Town has opted to stick with the same plan. The Classic and Oaks will be run the evening of Aug. 27; the Classic purse will increase to $800,000 from $600,000 and the Oaks purse will be $400,000, up from $200,000 in 2020. The purses were trimmed because of revenue issues that resulted from the shutdown of the facility’s casino in the spring.

In the 2020 standings, John McKee was the leading owner with 34 victories; Jeff Runco, for the 15th consecutive year, won the training title with 93 winners; and Arnaldo Bocachica, with 160 wins, topped the jockey standings for the third time. Charles Town was approved for 174 racing programs in 2021 and will begin the meet Jan. 8.

(Charles Town Classic photo courtesy of Coady Photography)