01/05/2013 2:08PM

Reversing a trend, 2012 handle was up 1 percent


Betting on U.S. Thoroughbred races was up 1 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, the first increase in wagering since 2006, according to figures released on Saturday by Equibase.

Handle on U.S. races in 2012 was $10.87 billion, according to the figures, up slightly from $10.77 billion in 2011. Though the jump reversed five years of declines, handle on U.S. Thoroughbred races remains well below the highwater mark of $15.18 billion, set in 2003. Handle statistics are not adjusted for inflation.

Purse distribution in 2012 was $1.12 billion, up 6.3 percent compared to purse distribution in 2011. Purses for U.S. races are heavily subsidized by casino revenues, and the increase in 2012 was largely driven by payments to horsemen from a casino at Aqueduct in New York that opened late in 2011.

Races at U.S. tracks in 2012 jumped slightly as well, up 0.23 percent, despite a 36 percent drop in the foal crop since 2005. It was the first jump in the number of races held at U.S. tracks since 2004.

The across-the-board jump in figures for Thoroughbred racing indicates that the industry may be stabilizing after years of declines that have raised doubts about the sport’s relevancy. Most significantly, handle on all three Triple Crown races was up in 2012, though handle on the Breeders’ Cup two-day event was sharply down, in part because of the disruptions caused by Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast.

Though handle is well below where it stood seven years ago, purse distribution has remained within striking distance of its highest mark, set in 2007, when purse distribution was $1.18 billion. However, the figure is heavily dependent on subsidies from casinos, through allotments that are increasingly being targeted by legislatures to help close enormous budget gaps.