You see lots of numbers from this industry pretty much each day. My meet went great. My meet went bad - but we had 59 more people in the stands per day. My handle per race was up when we had seven or more starters on Sunday's when there was not an NFL game on. The Olympics killed us.
That's not even mentioning the numbers that come out of California, which to me, at times, look like Swahili.
What's that all mean?
TimeformUS completed a quiet look at the quarterly numbers for 2014 on their blog last week. It's probably the best look at the numbers I've seen in some time.
Handle is down.
Field size is down.
In March, where racedays were reported up, the number of races was actually down.
Q1 supplied higher class racing than seen in previous years.
So, maybe this is all just what's supposed to happen. We have smaller fields, fewer races run as negatives, and higher class racing as a positive. It should be near a wash right?
If only things were that easy.
Racing has told us that the economy was the issue for oh, about five years. This, curiously, after some in racing telling us that betting was "recession proof" when the economy was tanking. The economy is better the last year, so where are the punters?
It was reported yesterday that the Santa Anita Derby had a 7% bump in attendance, with a 0.4% increase in on-track handle. The divergence was even worse for Wood Memorial Day. That's something to trumpet. Please let us know the next time Wal Mart writes in their annual report that they had a half a million people more through their stores, but 499,282 of them didn't buy anything. Millions have been spent on TV and attendance drivers the last two years. Maybe that worked but where are the people who pay the bills, the bettors?
We were told takeout hikes in California (four years ago now) would allow for huge purses and larger field size. No one will accuse them of being Nostradamus.
We were told "just wait for slots" at NYRA and watch the great racing we put on. They should throw the head office crystal ball in the trash and hire that Long Island Medium lady, apparently.
In 2014, thus far, we've seen a few things, in my opinion, and they are a systemic reason for the stagnation.
One, in NY and PA, the price of the bet went up due to the passing of what I feel was a foolish new ADW policy. Some of your most price sensitive, biggest every day players, are affected by this. When a policy like this is instituted, bankrolls shrink, and that (ask Issac Newton for confirmation, not a dumb horseplayer like me) results in fewer dollars bet.
Two, in NY and PA (remember these are both slots states, too), they made it more difficult for longer term customers to play racing, due to the same newly passed law.
Three, the industry is holding on with their outstretched fingers to the "we can't contract" trapeze bar. It simply will not adjust to things like numerators and denominators. This slaps a governor on betting choice. It's not much fun to study the cards for five hours and find five races you like out of hundreds.
Despite the noise; despite some attendance figures up, or the Olympics being over, or kids suddenly interested in horse racing because Beiber is less popular; despite the Dodgers and the Giants playing opening day; despite the economic numbers; despite the weather: The fact remains. The trend has been downward, and policies which make the price of a bet more expensive, the game harder to bet through the internet, field sizes to shrink, and bettable races to go lower in number, can not result in a growing bettor base.
Until racing embraces much needed systemic change, don't expect the handle numbers to change much. It's something, in my opinion, to remember when reading the industry numbers released each month.
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