National wagering handle down sharply in April

Worldwide wagering on Thoroughbred racing in the United States declined sharply in April versus the same month in 2023 and through four months is lagging last year by over six percent.

April’s wagering total of nearly $927 million was down 11.4% from last year’s April haul of over $1 billion. It marked the third time in four months that wagering was below 2023 levels; the only exception thus far has been March, when wagering rose just under one percent versus the prior year.

The number of races and race days also trailed 2023. This April there were 2,245 races conducted over the course of 269 race days. A year ago, tracks conducted 2,351 races while hosting 281 race days.

Average wagering per race day was down nearly 7.5% from a year ago. The average race day this April handled under $3.5 million versus last year’s average of more than $3.7 million.

It was mostly bad news from the numbers, which Equibase released May 6, but not entirely. While purses overall were down for the month, the available purse per race day was up 2.81 percent, to $352,932. Though overall purse payments are down this year, available purses per race day have increased, a function of the 7.25% decline in race days. The average day now sees available purses of more than $354,000.

Field size was also up, albeit very slightly, in April. April’s fields averaged 7.54 runners, just above the 7.51 runners last April saw.  Races have averaged 7.65 runners for the year to date, slightly above the 7.57 recorded in the first four months of last year.

The handle decline comes as racing has labored to compete with other forms of gambling in an increasingly competitive marketplace and struggled to reassure the public of its commitment to the safety of its participants. Handle nationally topped $15 billion in 2002, 2003, and 2004, according to the Jockey Club; but it hasn’t reached such heights since.

Handle hit $12.2 billion in 2021, its highest total since 2009. But it dropped slightly in 2022 and fell nearly four percent last year, to a bit more than $11.6 billion. If the current trend continues, national handle could dip under $11 billion this year.

IndicatorApril 2024April 2023% Change
Wagering on U.S. Races*$926,855,960$1,046,334,587-11.42%
U.S. Purses (Available)$94,938,583$100,519,382-5.55%
U.S. Purses (Paid)$90,802,180$96,466,406-5.87%
U.S. Race Days269281-4.27%
U.S. Races2,2452,351-4.51%
U.S. Starts16,92817,657-4.13%
Average Field Size7.547.510.40%
Average Wagering Per Race Day$3,445,561$3,723,611-7.47%
Average Available Purses Per Race Day$352,932$343,2972.81%