May wagering handle ticks up

Driven by record Kentucky Derby handle, wagering on US racing in May ticked up slightly over the prior year, topping $1.4 billion, according to Equibase statistics.

That number was 0.57% above the wagering recorded in May 2023. On a per-raceday basis, handle was up 3.65% versus last year.

That slight, half-point rise equates to a shade less than $8 million. Handle on Churchill Downs’s May 4 Kentucky Derby card, meanwhile, was up by nearly $32 million, meaning that handle for all other cards conducted during the month was down a touch.

In all, the $1.4 billion in wagering came on 359 race days, a drop in actual race days of 11, or 2.97%. Average betting per race day topped $3.9 million.

Thus far in 2024, wagering has been slightly up in two of the five months. In March total handle was up just less than one percent. On the other hand, in both January and April, wagering was down more than 10% versus the same month the prior year.

For the year to date, overall national handle is off by 4.29% versus 2023. Through five months last year, handle had exceeded $5.1 billion; thus far in 2024, it’s a bit over $4.9 billion.  

Wagering per race day is up 2% for the year, to $3,559,850. But that increase has come on six percent fewer race days; thus far in 2024, tracks have conducted 1,382 cards, while through five months of last year, that figure was 1,473.

The larger context is that wagering on US races has been on a steady slide for 20 years. After wagering reached almost $15.2 billion in 2023, the industry has since struggled with increasing gambling competition, changing public perceptions, and other issues. In 2023 a bit more than $11.6 billion was wagered on US racing.

IndicatorMay 2024May 2023% Change
Wagering on U.S. Races*$1,402,742,757$1,394,789,5260.57%
U.S. Purses (Available)$124,677,836$121,216,0652.86%
U.S. Purses (Paid)$119,901,115$117,049,9182.44%
U.S. Race Days359370-2.97%
U.S. Races2,9583,025-2.21%
U.S. Starts20,99621,648-3.01%
Average Field Size7.17.16-0.82%
Average Wagering Per Race Day$3,907,361$3,769,7013.65%
Average Available Purses Per Race Day$347,292$316,3519.78%