The most recent pro-racing occurrence is the advent of “racinos”, racetracks that offer alternative forms of gaming. Harrah’s, one of the largest casino operators, purchased Louisiana Downs a few years ago and has since built a casino at the track where one can watch and wager on races while playing slots. Several Fabrics other tracks have now created their own racinos and most of the others are pushing for local legislation to allow them to follow suit. The tracks are using this new source of revenue to improve their facilities and to increase their racing purses. In fact North American gross purses reached record levels in 2007 with tracks like Philadelphia Park, with their first full year of slot machine gaming, posting a 78% increase in purse money over 2006.
So where is the gloom and doom you hear so much about horse racing? Let’s take a look at the numbers. The United States horse industry contributes $101.5 billion dollars to the U.S. economy and employs the equivalent of 1.4 million full time employees. The direct value of horse related goods and services in America is $39 billion, greater than the value of motion picture services, furniture and fixture manufacturing, and even textile and apparel manufacturing.
Over the past 15 years, horse racing has experienced a 50% growth in total wagering with 11 years increasing over the previous year. True there have been 4 years of modest decline in handle, but only one of those years (2005) exceeded a .05% drop. Contrast that with major North American industries such as auto manufacturing and horse racing’s performance would have auto industry executives dancing in the aisles.
Now even this is not a realistic look at horse racing because all the published figures are supplied by The Jockey Club, owned primarily by prominent Thoroughbred owners, breeders and race tracks, and are based on the pari-mutuel wagering pool comprised of wagering at race tracks, sports books, OTB’s and licensed internet and telephone wagering sites such as YouBet, XpressBet, TVG, HRTV and the like. What is not reported is the wagering conducted at non-pooled sites including Bodog, Sports Book and All Horse Racing to name only a few. These sites have steadily siphoned off “handle” from the pool as they typically pay full track odds, offer signup and reload bonuses and don’t withhold taxes or report winnings. How much is wagered at these sites and others like them? No one knows except the operators and they’re not telling.