Churchill Downer: Horseplayers Speak Loud With Bankrolls

Churchill Downs

Churchill Downs handle has dropped more than $46 million at the spring / summer meeting.

There are just three days left at the much-maligned Churchill Downs meeting, and it sure looks as if their decision to raise the cost of placing a bet on their product has backfired.

According to, handle at the meeting through the first 34 days is down $46.8 million, a decrease of 11.69%. The numbers look much worse if we look at just the 32 regular days of the meeting (not including Oaks and Derby Day).

Without the two major races dates handle is down $45.5 million, or a whopping 26.9%. There have been only two days out of the 32 where handle showed an increase, and on 22 of the days, there was a decrease of at least $1 million. There have been six days at the meeting where handle was down $2.2 million or more.

According to the Players Boycott website, average field size at the Churchill Downs meeting is down 0.62 starters per race, a decrease of 8.13%.

Others issues at Churchill Downs have been well documented by major newspapers and here at Turf ‘n’ Sport, including getting snubbed by the Breeders’ Cup for at least the next three years.

While June numbers for the industry will not be out for a couple of more weeks, May saw overall handle increase according to numbers released by Equibase.

According to the Thoroughbred Racing Economic Indicators issued June 4 by Equibase, pari-mutuel handle totaled $1,211,786,462 in May versus $1,200,784,323 last year, an increase of 0.92% compared to 2013.

While field size is down slightly, there is no doubt the lion’s share of the decline at Churchill Downs is due to horseplayers balking at paying the higher takeout that was instituted at the beginning of the spring meeting.


The win, place and show takeout at Churchill Downs was raised to 17.5%, an increase of 9.375% compared to last year’s takeout rate of 16%. Takeout for all exotic wagers was raised to 22%, an increase of 15.79% versus last year’s takeout rate of 19%.

Other than Kentucky Oaks and Derby Days, there is nothing special about the racing at Churchill Downs, and horseplayers have looked elsewhere for better value.

The Players Boycott website suggests these tracks as a better option:

• Woodbine: 14.95% Win takeout.

• Belmont: 16% takeout WPS, 18.5% on Exactas and Doubles, and 15% takeout on the 50-cent Pick 5 on races1-5.

• Santa Anita: 15.43% takeout on WPS, 18% takeout on rolling Doubles, and a 14.0% takeout on the 50-cent Pick 5 races 1-5.

• Gulfstream: 15% takeout 50-cent Pick 5.

• Hastings Park: 15% takeout WPS, Double, Pick 3, Pick 4 and Pick 5.

• Northlands Park: 14.5% takeout WPS, 10.0% takeout Pick 5    (the LOWEST WPS and Pick5 takeout of any track in North America).

• Prairie Meadows: 15% takeout 50-cent Pick 4.

• Monmouth: 19% takeout Exacta and Doubles, 15% takeout on the 50-cent Pick 4 and Pick 5.

I can only hope that other racetracks are watching what is going on at Churchill Downs and think twice about raising takeout in the near future. I am not very optimistic about takeout being lowered across the board, but if tracks want to grab their share of the handle, they really need to address the takeout, which is higher than just about every other form of gambling.

A shrinking pool of horseplayers cannot continue to lose 20% (an approximate blended takeout) day in and day out and be expected to keep coming back to the betting windows.

With a 20% takeout, it is extremely difficult to make a long-term profit, and tracks are not doing themselves any favors by adding these Jackpot wagers that have an effective takeout that can reach 70%.

I personally know dozens of horseplayers that once bet large sums that only play the ponies a couple of times a year now, using their gambling bankroll to bet sports and play poker at a much lower takeout.

The boycott of Churchill Downs has sent a strong message. Horseplayers are not going to roll over and play dead anymore. The industry needs to do something before we start rolling over, put on a pair of plaid pants and hit the golf course.


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