Horse races are coming back with a bang

  • Major horse racing tracks across the country are beginning to reopen (without fans) after an extended hiatus caused by the Coronavirus.
  • Betting handle on races has increased greatly over similarly timed races in 2019.
  • This suggests that the sports betting industry could rebound from its significant financial downturn faster than expected once major sports leagues resume play.

LOUISVILLE, Ky.Racetracks are finally beginning to reopen after an extended hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and races are drawing record high volumes of wagers.

Even without fans in the stands, recent races at tracks across the country have seen massive spikes in betting volume over races on similar dates in 2019. This is not only a positive development for horse racing, but the entire sports betting industry.

At the opening day for the 2020 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs, for instance, bettors wagered over $14 million, nearly tripling the betting total from a similar weekend in 2019.

Last Thursday at Charles Town Races in West Virginia, races drew $4.3 million in wagers—the fifth-highest one-day betting handle the track has ever experienced and the highest for a non-Charles Town Classic Race.

At Santa Anita Park in California, nine races held last Friday drew $11.2 million in handle, compared to $7 million on the same day in 2019.

It will likely be many months before it is safe for spectators to return to tracks, but national TV deals with companies like FOX and NBC can bring the races right into American living rooms. With few other sports to watch right now, expect these high betting volumes to continue.

Implications Of High Horse Betting Handles

The huge popularity of betting on races after tracks reopened suggests that sportsbooks could find relief from their current financial difficulties sooner than anticipated.

It was assumed that the worldwide economic crisis would lead to decreased spending on gambling and other recreational hobbies, but these races have proved that interest in legal sports betting hasn’t necessarily decreased.

While a three-race sample is not statistically significant, it serves well enough as a proof of concept. If betting interest in racing is this high, the return of major sports leagues like the MLB and the NBA could lead to similar betting spikes.

This would significantly speed up the process of online and retail sportsbooks recovering financially from Coronavirus-related shutdowns, especially if the process of reopening businesses continues at its current rate.

Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer have announced plans to resume play in June and July.

The feasibility of these plans is still questionable, given the public health situation, but these leagues’ return could provide a huge boost to nationwide sports betting revenues.

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