Total handle in 2020 down less than 1%; purses drop 25% from 2019

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Jan. 6, 2020

Total commingled pari-mutuel handle on United States Thoroughbred races in 2020 was down less than 1% from 2019, while U.S. purses dropped more than 25% in light of a comparable percentage decline in the number of races and race days, according to the Thoroughbred Economic Indicators released by Equibase Jan. 5.

The reduction in racing opportunities came about through the shutdown of many racetracks for several months because of COVID-19 restrictions. Even when many tracks reopened, patrons were not permitted on the grounds to wager. In addition, many tracks that rely on casino gaming to help fund purses lost that revenue for two to three months.

According to Equibase, total handle for 2020 was $10.925 billion, down 0.98% from $11.033 billion in 2019. For the first half of 2020, when the bulk of the shutdowns occurred, wagering totaled $5.055 billion, down 10.88% from the same six months the previous year. For the second half of 2020, wagering came in at $5.869 billion, an increase of 9.49% from the July-through-December period in 2019.

Purses in 2020 totaled $869.77 million, down 25.53% from $1.167 billion in 2019. It was the first time since 1999 that purses for a year were under $1 billion.

U.S. Thoroughbred purses for the first half of 2020 were down 40.41% compared with the same period in 2019 and down 12.55% for the second half of the year. Average purses per race day was almost even year over year at $263,408 in 2020 versus $263,937 the previous year.

There were 27,700 Thoroughbred races in 2020 compared with 36,207 in 2019 (a decline of 23.50%). Most of the hit came in the first six months of the year: There were 10,906 races versus 17,457 in 2019, a drop of 37.53%. For the final six months of 2020, the drop in races was 10.43%—from 18,750 in 2019 to 16,794.