Thursday, April 12, 2012

Guest Post: Don't Look Now, But Handle Is Up

by Bill Finley
   Has horseracing turned a corner?
   Based on the latest monthly betting figures coming out of Equibase, it has.
   Wagering on U.S. races rose 9.46 percent in March as $984 million passed through the mutuel windows. For the year, wagering is up 5.43 percent or $139 million. The latest figures are a continuance of a trend that began in December when wagering was up 17.88 percent. It was the first month that had showed a wagering increase since November 2009, ending a two-year run that was as dismal as it gets.
   What’s happened? No one seems quite sure, but these are no doubt some factors that have contributed to racing’s recent good run:
--The Economy: The economy isn’t as bad as it used to be. As people start to get back on their feet financially they are no doubt rediscovering pari-mutuel wagering.
--New York City OTB: They pulled the plug on the hapless organization on December 7, 2010, which took hundreds of millions of dollars out of betting circulation. Since December 2011 the loss of the OTB dollars in the month-versus-month figures has not been a factor.
--The Weather: The weather in the Northeast was freakishly mild this year. There were very few cancellations and there was nothing weather-wise standing in the way of anyone who might have wanted to make a bet.
--The Gulfstream Factor: It can’t be a coincidence that racing’s reversal coincided with opening day of the Gulfstream meet. Gulfstream had a fabulously successful meet under the leadership of Tim Ritvo. The track’s all-sources handle was up $96 million for the recently concluded meet, a large chunk of the total handle increase in the U.S. Gulfstream opened earlier than ever this year, gained some momentum right at the start and never looked back.
   As I have written many times before, put on a great product and treat the customer right and people will bet. It’s not horse racing people have walked away from; it’s lousy horse racing.
--Low Takeout, Inexpensive Wagers: Nearly everyone has jumped on this bandwagon. Where once the customer was forced to bet a $1 or $2 multiple race wager with a ridiculously high takeout, now there are abundant opportunities to bet 50-cent tickets on Pick Fours and Pick Fives where the takeout is in the 15 percent range. These bets work because people think they have can spend modestly yet still have a reasonable chance of winning big and they don’t get fleeced by 25 percent takeouts.
   We’re probably not out of the woods yet, but, at the very least, it looks like the tailspin is over. Hallelujah.

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