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Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (PTHA)

  /  Around the Ovals   /  PARX 2021 HANDLE NUMBERS UP DRAMATICALLY


By Dick Jerardi

When the decision was made to go exclusively with a Monday,  Tuesday, Wednesday schedule at Parx in 2021, the hope was that Wednesdays, without so much competition, would be much more successful than Saturdays with all the competition.

Hope became reality. The average daily simulcast handle on Parx races in 2021 was $2,644 million. In 2020, it was $2,043 million. In 2019, it was $1,546 million.

 “So we are up this year over 2019 by 71 percent,’’ said Parx Chief Operating Officer Joe Wilson. “Without a doubt, the Wednesday far outdoes the Saturday.’’

 In 2019, the track ran a mix of three-day weeks and four-day weeks.

 “Probably the biggest factor and I think it’s equal, Wednesday instead of Saturday, also running three days as opposed to four days, that’s just as big,’’ Wilson said. “The four days, we can’t handle it anymore. We just can’t do it.’’

 The track’s fiscal year ended Dec. 26 so the numbers Wilson cited don’t even count Dec. 27, 28, and 29 when the track handled nearly $14 million.

 “The other thing with this three-day-a-week schedule, I run more races per day,’’ Wilson said. “So back in 2019, we were running four days a week, there were some days I could only card eight races.’’

 The way the game is delivered to players has changed dramatically in the last decade. Back in 2005, Parx had six OTB’s and a national phonebet system. So the on-track handle was the thing.

 Then, casinos came to Pennsylvania, and account wagering systems became the thing for horseplayers. Parx is down to one OTB (South Philly). Wilson said the new model will be on display soon at a new Chickie’s and Pete’s in Malvern where Parx will have a small space for horse and sports betting.

 “Back then, you might have had 10 percent of your handle was 

done through account wagering,’’ Wilson said. “Now, it’s probably north of 75 percent done through account wagering.’’

 The on-track handle model is now a relic from another era as more than 90 percent of the national handle is bet somewhere other than at race tracks. So the play in the 2020s is to make your betting product as appealing as possible to generate handle on your live races wherever those bets come from.

 “Everybody is trying to do this marketing thing, that marketing thing, got to bring people to the track, you’ve got to generate on-track handle,’’ Wilson said. “It ain’t going to happen. Unfortunately, that’s over. So you really want to key on some big days.’’

 To that end, the track is going to schedule six Saturdays instead of Wednesdays in 2020. Parx will run live on the Saturdays of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Father’s Day Weekend, July 4th Weekend, and Pennsylvania Derby.

 Big days are their own entities and attractions as 2021 Pa. Derby Day clearly demonstrated. The best racing card in the history of the race track generated a record $13.2 million handle.

 “We’ll try to make each one of those days as big of an on-track event as we can to get people out,’’ Wilson said. “There are people that miss that racing on Saturday, that racing on a weekend.’’

 Longtime Parx fans really enjoy the picnic area so that will get more play in 2022 with the six Saturdays.

 With those final three days of 2021 to get the track flying out of the 2022 fiscal starting gate, it will be interesting to follow the handle numbers this year.

 The Philly Big 5 with the Jackpot carryover began May 10, 2021. It was hit with a single ticket twice  ($326,000 on June 14 and $245,000 on Nov. 2). Three times, including on Dec. 29, the entire pool was paid out as part of mandatory distribution.

 The carryover heading into last Wednesday was nearly $400,000. Wilson expected some large wagering, but admitted he was not prepared for what happened.

 “Generally, things don’t surprise me anymore,’’ Wilson said. “That surprised me. There was $400,000 in that jackpot and they bet $2 million to get that out. If I had to guess, I would have said it would be $1 million, maybe a little bit more than a million. But not $2 million.’’

 When he was asked how many times Parx had a $2 million pool ($1.997 million to be exact) for one bet, Wilson knew that instantly: it was a first.

 “I don’t even have to look that up,’’ Wilson said.

 Nor does he have to look up the quality of the daily product at Parx. It’s just better and that attracts bettors.

 Now, with 10 races per day, it’s 30 races per week. With four-day weeks and sometimes eight races daily, that was 32 races per week.

 “Three tens works out a whole lot better than four eights,’’ Wilson said.

 The proof is right there in the numbers.