Correction: PA Horse Racing Handle Actually Up $7.1 Million in 2019 Reporting

Posted on October 1, 2020 - Last Updated on October 21, 2020

Good news, pony pickers, railbirds, lovers of long shots and others who care about horse racing in Pennsylvania.

The 2019 live handle did not decrease, as the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) stated in an annual report released last month.

No. It actually went up.

Slight percentage increase meant more than $7M for live handle

Live handle refers to amount wagered on PA horse races by bettors in-state and out-of-state.

In percentage terms, the YoY increase was not much, mind you, but any bit of up is good in the world of horse racing after years of decline as interest and participation diminish. And in dollars, it was up by more than $7 million.

The Racetrack Casino Statistical Report from August had shown a 0.04% decrease in the live handle, essentially flat year-over-year. Pete Peterson, Pennsylvania Equine Coalition spokesman, had found that a positive sign when the report first came out.

Harrah’s supplied bad live handle data

But following a recent review by the coalition staff, an error was found in the data supplied by Harrah’s Racetrack Philadelphia. The bad number was for so-called “export” revenue, which covers the bets on Harrah’s races sent from other tracks and off-track betting venues.

Correction of the mistake meant live handle actually rose by 1.02%, rather than dropping. Given the long-term trend in racing, Peterson was elated.

While 1.02% sounds paltry, the reality is that’s a $7,125,943 increase in live handle for the year 2019.

That means the live handle was not $668,648,468 as previously stated, but rather $675,774,411.

The correction will be made in next year’s report

PGCB spokesperson Doug Harbach acknowledged the error, attributing it to the bad data from Harrah’s. He said a correction will be noted in the subsequent report.

Declining revenue is part of a long downward trend in live horse racing. Taxable handle — money wagered at PA tracks and OTBs — has dropped every year since the reporting began.

In 2006, the taxable handle from all tracks was just under $976 million. According to the PGCB report, taxable handle was around $300 million in 2019. That means the handle has fallen by more than two-thirds, or around 69%, in 13 years.

That’s not unique to PA, the report noted. The drop is due to decreasing demand for retail horse betting. In PA, off-track betting parlors have struggled, with several closing over the last few years. They’re down to four by our count with the recent closing of the Oaks.

A silver lining for horse racing can be found in increasing interest in online horse betting, though Peterson notes that online sportsbooks launching in 2019 likely cut into taxable handle for racing.

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Lead image credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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