02/15/2008 7:15PM

Some Global Perspective


I tagged the Saturday newspaper column with a little item about betting around the world, gleaned from 2006 worldwide statistics in the newly-released Jockey Club Fact Book. My factlet was that even though the United States ranks first among all nations in the number of Thoroughbred races run each year, and third in total betting handle, when it comes to handle-per-race the U.S. ranks only 11th among the 12 nations that handle at least $1 billion a year in racing bets. (South Africa, which ran 3,883 races in 2006, is probably a 13th, but the Jockey Club was unable to obtain handle figures from that nation.)

The table below reiterates that finding, and also adds purses to the mix. Note that these purse totals do not include owner and breeder premiums, which is why the U.S. purse total of $937 million is lower than the gross purse total of $1.12 billion published elsewhere in the Fact Book:

These results suggest three obvious conclusions:

1. We run way too many races in this country, and less product would probably not mean a decrease in total betting or purses, given the evidence elsewhere.

2. Though American racehorse owners constantly complain about not getting a sufficient return on investment, in comparison to other countries, we do a pretty efficient job of directing betting commissions back to owners through purses. If British purses were our 6 percent of handle, rather than their current 1 percent, the average British purse would be over $130,000, even bigger than Hong Kong's. The difference is our tote system and simulcasting contracts, as opposed to the prevalence of bookmakers in Britain, which return a far smaller slice to the industry.

3. If you add population to the equation, you can get either very depressed about how thin racing's reach is in this country or, if you're the half-full type, see enormous potential for expanding that reach. Here's the list of those same 12 countries ranked by parimutuel handle per resident: