The main takeaway from last year’s California purse and handle numbers is one of stasis, with no significant movement in any one direction compared to 2021.
A roughly 2.5% increase in the number of California races run in 2022 over 2021 is framed against a half-percentage point decrease in purses and an even smaller fraction of a percentage decrease in all-source handle.
“It was like holding serve in 2022,” said Bill Nader, newly minted president and chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC), which once again put the figures together for the TDN. The report can be accessed here.
“During the pandemic, we were able to soldier through and then we showed some impressive increases,” Nader added, referencing a 17% uptick in all-source handle and a 19% increase in purse generation in 2021 over the year prior. “This points now to 2023 as being a critical year for us to push forward again.”
It also means that betting trends that have shaped the industry in the Golden State since 2018–a useful baseline year for the sport’s health coming before a well-publicized welfare crisis and a global pandemic–are largely still in effect.
The amount California bettors wager on races in their own state appears to remain closely tied to the number of races staged. At the same time, Californian bettors continue to wager more and more on out-of-state races.
“It’s not simply the number of races. We’ve got to look at it through the lens of the bettor,” said Nader, when asked about how better to keep the Californian betting dollar in-house.
“It’s trying to make sure we put all pieces of the puzzle together which is to have those races attractive from a customer perspective, where we can show improvement in field size and quality of competition,” he added.
As a bright spot, Nader highlighted how horseplayers appear to be returning to brick and mortar facilities to place their bets after a pandemic-led wholesale swing to ADW platforms.
“It shows a shift–people are coming back to the races with greater frequency,” he said, before pointing to what he sees as tentative sign of encouragement for 2023, like improved field sizes during the current Santa Anita season as compared to 2022, and the advent this winter of some heavy-hitters in the saddle via the likes of Frankie Dettori, Juan Hernandez, Kazushi Kimura and Flavien Prat.
“I think all of that stuff when you put it together,” he added, “we have a pretty attractive proposition.”
Handle: Notable Themes
1–The amount Californians are wagering on Californian races has improved very marginally compared to 2021, with a 2.5% increase in races during that time corresponding to a little more than 4.5% increase in wagering within the state.
Furthermore, comparing 2018 to 2022, as the number of races has shrunk, the amount Californians wager on races in their own state has shrunk accordingly.
Over that time, there has been a nearly 20% decrease in the amount of races run in California, corresponding to a like-for-like 20% decrease in the amount Californians wagered on these races.
2–Californians in 2022 bet a little more on races staged outside of their own state compared to 2021, wagering 2.5% more on these contests.
This is consistent with what has been a massive upward trend over the past five years in this arena, with a nearly 24% increase in the amount Californians are wagering on out-of-state races when comparing 2022 to 2018.
During that same period, all-source handle dropped by 1%.
3–A 2.5% increase in races from 2021 to 2022 saw a small drop of nearly 4% from out-of-state wagering on California races.
However, comparing last year’s numbers to 2018, we see that a 20% drop in races staged in California has seen only a 9% drop in wagering from out-of-state bettors.
4–Last year, California bettors made a shift away from ADW wagering back towards brick and mortar facilities as compared to 2021 numbers, but the overall swing towards ADW wagering compared to pre-pandemic days is still marked.
When looking at the total wagering in 2018 from within California (both on in-state and out-of-state races), approximately 58% was brick and mortar and 42% was ADW.
In 2021, the dynamic was approximately 33% brick and mortar and 67% ADW. Last year it was approximately 40% brick and mortar and 60% ADW.
Purses: Notable Points
1–A 2.5% increase in races from 2021 to 2022 corresponded to a half a percentage point loss to the total purse account.
Comparing 2022 to 2018, a 20% decrease in races saw an overall decline in purses of a little more than 6%.
2–Comparing 2022 to 2021, purses generated from out-of-state wagering on California races dropped nearly 4%.
3–When comparing 2022 to 2021, purses generated from wagering by California betters increased by 1.5%.