There was a chart whipping around the twitter yesterday, which showed Thoroughbred racing handle by state, as below:
The above graph does not take into account dates, nor does it look at inflation. For example, since 2010, the compound inflation rate is around 10%, requiring a $2B handle to be $2.2B, just to hold even.
A few points.
New York handle taking the lead might be a little bit surprising, but there have been some positives for that signal.
OTB's were closed, for the most part, and those users were cycled into more modern means, like NYRA rewards. More rewards (and no OTB surcharges) help churn and customer retention. They had a takeout decrease, which surely helped a little bit through added churn. The negative - an ADW tax - has probably hurt somewhat. Regardless, their signal continues to be strong, and their race office's have been hard at work (trying to) putting on bettable racing.
They have also used alternative gaming money for more "big days", which can anger everyday players, but have added some zip to a fading product on weekends.
California has had major issues. That's been obvious. Unlike New York, the vision in the state tends to be more protectionist and insular (the amount of tracks that can beam in their signal is regulated, for example), and heavily tilted to horsemen interests, not customer interests. Despite purses holding firm, handle has fallen, and perhaps by this year Florida handle will overtake them,knocking them to third place.
Customers in the state have lived through a large takeout hike, which has hurt. Trying to offset this loss there has been some move on rebating some action, and the addition of the 14% pick 5 has surely helped in plugging the holes in the boat, even a little. As well, the closures and pivoting dates into higher handle signals has helped. They have a long way to go.
Florida is an interesting case study. Tampa Bay Downs has seen handle increases, and have for some time. They've lowered juice since 2002, when the top end had 28% takeouts. They're a strong winter signal and they're up again in 2016, last time I checked.
Gulfstream is the big enchilada and we've seen a few things happen with them. First there are more dates, which have helped overall handle a great deal. They also took over the Calder signal and that has shown massive increases.
In addition, they've done a good job, and we have to give credit where credit is due. Tim Ritvo, and Steve Calabro before him, seem to actually care about raising handle. From the race office right through lower management, there seems to be an eye on handle and they use it as a KPI. Sure their menu can use a few top end takeout reductions, sure the Rainbow Six is beggar thy neighbor and not overly good for the horse racing ecosystem, sure we can nitpick; sure there is room to grow, by being more customer friendly. But this class signal is stronger than ever, and that deserves some recognition.
Kentucky has some good and some bad. The big signal - Keeneland - lost some luster of late, with shorter fields and shorter prices. Their poly brand was super-strong and stood out in the landscape. Churchill raised juice and that signal has suffered, and it dominates the race date landscape. The stop gap on handle flow has been the Derby of course. With about $250M in handle in one week a year, Churchill revenue and handle goes as it goes. Let's hope it doesn't rain this year.
Turfway keeps trudging along and Kentucky Downs keeps breaking handle records by doing almost everything right from an end-demand perspective. They don't race enough, so overall they do not move the handle needle.
Kentucky racing, to me, feels like it's at the crossroads in many ways.
There was a discussion last evening about horse rescue that I found really interesting.
I don't say it enough here, but should - I admire everything you guys do. To see a horse no one wants going from a slaughter truck to a paddock, romping around like a new born colt and blossoming to being a horse again, is pure magic. To see those of you who take time out of your busy days with cap in hand, trying to raise $50 or $100, or $200 to feed one for a couple of weeks, I am in awe. To everyone who gets up on a terrible morning to feed unwanted horses, or stay with them when they're sick or on the mend, or help them trust again after escaping an abused life, it's amazing.
To the larger industry organizations that support aftercare to the small guy or gal who drops a twenty into a jar at the track, everything you do is appreciated.
One horse isn't the world, but to that one horse you saved, or donated to, you're his world.
Perhaps there will come a day when, as floated about, $500 per foal and 1% of purses are set aside to care for horses after they're done. But that day is not here. Until then we have you folks, and we're fortunate that we do.
Have a nice day everyone, and please consider helping out your local horse rescue, should you have the means to do so.