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2012 Horse Racing Economic Indicators from Equibase

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The recent economic indicators suggest that, in terms of handle and purses, the worst seems to be behind the horse racing industry.

Michael Heiman - Getty Images

Equibase has released their economic indicator data from September and the numbers, overall, continue to be encouraging on the handle front. (see charts below) Total handle in September of 2012 was 2.60% higher than during September of 2011, while purses increased almost 14%. Over the entire year, handle is up 2.32% and purses are up 9.04%.

The new numbers continue the trend in the industry throughout 2012: things are better that they were last year (even if only in a slight sense) but we've yet to dig out of the massive hole since the start of the recession. One very positive note, in my opinion, is that the hemorrhaging of handle has appeared to ended. Over the last four years we've witnessed huge drops in year-to-year wagering numbers. And while a 2% increase over the prior time period seems like anemic growth, it is certainly better than a 10% drop (which is what we've been watching ever since 2008).

Over the past four years there are all kinds of theories as to why handle has dipped so significantly. We can talk about the takeout, post times, marketing and any other peripheral topics we want, but the simple fact of the matter is that in bad economic times people don't spend as much money as they do during the good times. Gambling on horses isn't an "essential" expense for most people. If money is tight, spending habits change. This doesn't diminish the need to find solutions to the known issues within the sport, but sometimes I wonder if people realize that horse racing isn't the only industry to take a beating over the last four years.

From the Equibase press release:

9/2012 vs. 9/2011
Indicator Sept. 2012 Sept. 2011 % Change
Wagering on US Races $794,535,798 $774,417,597 2.60%
US Purses $104,541,521 $94,522,375 13.77%
US Race Days 500 493 1.42%

YTD 2012 vs. YTD 2011
Indicator YTD 2012 YTD 2011 % Change
Wagering on US Races $8,473,614,357 $8,281,254,482 2.32%
US Purses $855,006,362 $784,135,156 9.04%
US Race Days 4162 4089 1.79%