Wagering On U.S. Racing Highest Since 2009

By Bill Finley

According to figures released Wednesday by Equibase, $12,218,407,637 was wagered on horse racing in the U.S. in 2021. The figure marks the first time betting has topped $12 billion since 2009 when $12.315 billion was bet.

“Against an extraordinarily difficult backdrop, the resiliency of Thoroughbred racing was on full display in 2021, as we concluded the year with significant growth in purses and total handle of more than $12 billion, the highest since 2009,” NTRA President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Rooney said in a statement. “We thank our customers for their ongoing support, as their wagering dollars continue to fuel our industry. As we turn the page to 2022, we look forward to the beginning of a new era for U.S. Thoroughbred racing with the launch of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) and an even greater focus on equine safety and welfare and the integrity of America’s oldest sport.”

Wagering peaked in 2003 when $15.18 billion was bet.

Wagering was up 11.86% over 2020, when $10,922,936,290 was bet during a year in which the pandemic kept several tracks closed for parts of the year. A better comparison may be 2019, when $11,033,824,363 was wagered. The 2021-versus-2019 numbers show a 10.74% increase.


Bossier City, LA – Louisiana Downs has received approval from the Louisiana State Racing Commission (LSRC) to offer a mandatory payout on their Pick 5 Wager, which will cover races three through seven on Louisiana Cup Day,  Saturday, August 21.


There will be carryover of $349,763 heading into Louisiana Cup Day. First post is 2:45 pm (Central) for the seven-race card which features six stakes for accredited Louisiana-breds with purses of $50,000 each.  The Pick 5, which is offered daily for a minimum wager of .50 cents, covers the following races:


Race 3     $50,000 Louisiana Cup Distaff

Race 4     $50,000 Louisiana Cup Juvenile

Race 5     $50,000 Louisiana Cup Sprint

Race 6     $50,000 Louisiana Cup Turf Classic

Race 7     $50,000 Louisiana Cup Filly and Mare Sprint


“We approached the racing commission last week when the Pick 5 carryover began to grow,” said David Heitzmann, Louisiana Downs Director of Racing. “Louisiana Cup Day is an exceptional showcase for Louisiana Thoroughbreds and offers black-type purses for the breeders as well as excellent wagering opportunities for our horseplayers. We look forward to a great afternoon!”


Louisiana Downs track announcer John McGary and regional racing publicist Martha Claussen will conduct a free handicapping seminar at 1:00 pm in the Inside Rail, located on the first floor of the grandstand. They will offer analysis and their selections for each of the races and Pick 5 on the Louisiana Cup Day card. In addition, contributing handicappers Rachel McLaughlin of Indiana Grand, NHC Hall of Fame champion Trey Stiles and Nick Tammaro, an eight-time NHC qualifier and morning-line oddsmaker, will share their Pick 5 tickets on Twitter.


James McIngvale: Where You Bet Matters

James McIngvale with Runhappy at Claiborne | Courtesy of Gallery Furniture

As handicappers and racing enthusiasts across America prepare to dive into this week’s sensational Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, keep this in mind: Where you bet matters.

It took 25-plus years of horse ownership and a $2.4-million wager for me to fully appreciate the huge difference it makes where a bet is placed. It was a wake-up call for me, and it should be for you. Everyone in horse racing whenever possible should put their money through the windows or self-bet machines at the racetrack.

If you’re like I was, you’ve never really thought about how each dollar gets chopped up. A bet is a bet, you probably think. You get the same payoff if you bet on-track, through simulcasting or online. Even at a casino that is booking the bets, you get track odds, albeit with caps.


But the return to the industry–for the owners whose horses put on the show and for the track that provides the venue–wildly varies depending on where a bet is made. For the long-term viability of the sport, those who work in and/or love horse racing should learn where the money goes and take seriously betting where it maximizes purses.

I was committed to placing at least $2 million on Essential Quality in the Kentucky Derby in order to cover my Gallery Furniture promotion where customers would get their money back if the Derby favorite won. The casinos worked hard to get my action, which they had received for promotions tied to the outcome of the World Series and Super Bowl. It was an eye-opener to learn what it meant in additional dollars to horse owners if I made the largest Kentucky Derby bet in history at the home of the Derby instead of a casino or online.

I lost my $2.4-million total in win bets when Essential Quality finished fourth but sold a boatload of mattresses and had a lot of customers snapping their fingers during the Run for the Roses. But a big winner was Churchill Downs’ purse account for horsemen, which accrued $240,000 from my bets alone.

Purses are the lifeblood of American racing–it’s what makes our racing unique and is vital to its sustainability. There’s a substantial difference in the money that goes to horse owners if a bet is placed onsite at the track or if it’s bet through an online platform, simulcasting, a casino or offshore. It also makes a big difference to the track staging the races, with the significant costs entailed in building, maintaining and staffing the facility.

Had I made my wager in Las Vegas, where the casinos do not have a contract with Churchill Downs and therefore could not bet into the parimutuel pools, no money would have flowed back to Kentucky horsemen. If bet anywhere but on track, at best the funding to purses would have been about half. At worst, zero.

If we care about the industry, the last place we should bet is offshore or with casinos that book the bets and don’t contribute anything to our mutuel pools or purse account. Offshore sites might offer lucrative rebates–but they can do that because they have no outlay for the cost of putting on the product.

I’m not bashing reputable online betting operations or simulcasting. The pandemic proved how vital ADW operations are to racing, how we were able to stay in business with spectator-less racing while other sports were shut down.

Millennials’ and Generation Z’s office is their phone, so ADWs are expanding our reach but at the same time should pay an equitable rate to racetracks and horsemen. Kudos to ADWs that have worked with various tracks and horsemen’s groups in California, Kentucky and elsewhere to make sure ADW betting on-site returns the same amount to purses as if the bet were placed with a mutuel clerk or self-bet machine.

Of course, if we’re asking horseplayers and racing participants to bet at the track where possible, tracks likewise must make their facilities and the experience inviting for fans. Every day, and not just on select days.

Horse racing has a great opportunity to step up our game and attract new fans. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness ratings showed people are interested in horse racing. Heck, my Gallery Furniture promotion shows that the Kentucky Derby and racing resonate with the guy and gal on the street.

We’ve got to attract younger people. We need to attract the followers of Barstool Sports, Bleacher Report, Action Network. We need to embrace sports-betting content.

There is no easy fix. It takes commitment, effort and ingenuity. But our sport and industry are worth it. Excluding football games, the Kentucky Derby was the third-most watched sporting event since the pandemic hit in March 2020, trailing only the NCAA men’s basketball championship game won by Baylor and Gonzaga’s semifinal victory over UCLA, according to Sports Media Watch. That’s impressive.

The Kentucky Derby, Triple Crown and horse racing are still relevant. But you’ve got to flame the fire–and also be smart about where we bet. Cumulatively, it makes a huge difference.

Jim McIngvale, also known as Mattress Mack, is an entrepreneur, furniture mogul, philanthropist and horse owner based in Houston. McIngvale campaigned 2015 GI Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and Eclipse Award champion male sprinter Runhappy and has become a major racing sponsor while promoting his horse as a stallion at Claiborne Farm. McIngvale can be reached at (281) 844-1963 or

Fair Grounds Replaces “Jackpot” Black Gold Five with Traditional Pick Fives

Key alteration also made to multi-race wagering rule



New Orleans (November 13, 2020) – When Fair Grounds’ 149th season of racing kicks off Thanksgiving Day, a traditional early and late Pick Five will replace the Black Gold Five, a jackpot wager that had been in place for the past several years.

On a regular basis, the early Pick Five will encompass races 1-5, and the late Pick Five will be offered on the final five races of the card. The 50-cent minimum wager will pay 100% of the day’s pool plus any carryover coming into the day to those who correctly select 5-of-5 winners. Should no one pick 5-of-5, 25% of the pool will be paid to those who select the most winners, with the remaining 75% of the pool carrying over to the following day’s late Pick Five sequence.

In addition to the newly implemented early and late Pick Five, Fair Grounds will also offer an early Pick Four, which will now move to races 2-5, as well as two other Pick Fours later on the card. Rolling Pick Threes and daily doubles remain a staple of the wagering menu.

Fair Grounds will also make a key change to their horizontal wagering platform. Beginning this meet, any race that is taken off the turf after a sequence has started will revert to ALL on any live tickets. This rule only applies to turf races moved to the main track. Any scratch in a race that did not switch surfaces will result in the bettor getting a replacement of the post time favorite.

A complete list of wagering information, special wagers, and with key racing dates for the meet can be found here.

Racing Sees Bump in Overall Handle in June

Horseplayers are supporting racing that’s available.

Like all sports, racing is facing challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but with extensive coverage on national television, fans are finding the sport.

Those fans wagered nearly $1 billion on available racing in June 2020 as handle for the month actually was up 0.76% to $998,448,300 when compared with June 2019. That bump in handle occurred despite a near 40% reduction in race days to 300. While race dates have been lost as tracks adjust to COVID-19 restrictions, fans are supporting available racing as average wagering per race day jumped 68% in June to $3,328,161.

The available racing product is an upgrade for fans as tracks have spread out their schedules to fill available days—like Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday cards. And, a reduction in racing opportunities has helped increase average field size, up 14% in June to 8.11 starters.

Read BloodHorse Article

Growth in Average Daily Purses Among U.S. Tracks

MarketWatch: Top 10 tracks by percentage increase


Changes made in 2017 to federal tax withholding and reporting on winning pari-mutuel wagers was expected to boost overall handle figures by promoting more churn through the windows. Higher churn was then expected to boost purses, which are fueled largely from a percentage of wagering.

Expectations came to fruition, with Equibase reporting growth in both United States purses and handle reported for 2018. Wagering increased 3.3% to more than $11.26 billion and purses grew 3.5% to more than $1.11 billion.

Just how deeply were racetracks affected by this growth?

Significantly, according to an annual review of average daily purses compiled per track by BloodHorse MarketWatch. Look for a complete breakdown in the Feb. 16 issue of BloodHorse magazine. In the meantime, MarketWatch wanted to see which of the larger race meets saw the biggest increases in average daily purse between 2017 and 2018.

Our annual purse review includes racetracks that ran at least five live dates and paid gross purses of $100,000 or more. These criteria fit 84 racetracks in 2017, of which 46 (55%) reported an increase in average daily purses compared with 2016. In 2018, 80 racetracks met the criteria and of these 50 (62.5%) reported an increase in average daily purse.

Among racetracks running 50 or more days of live racing, Delta Downs reported the largest increase in average daily purse—a 32% increase to $273,809. Since 2001, Delta Downs has had the benefit of slots machines to enhance purses. The top 10 racetracks by percent increase in average daily purse include only two that do not offer any kind of alternative gambling. Those who reported growth without the benefit of slot machines or card tables are Arlington International Racecourse, up 14%, and Golden Gate Fields, up 7.9%.

Arlington was able to increase its purses in 2018 due to an underpayment in the 2017 purse account and because state lawmakers approved more than $1.6 million for owners awards and stakes races, according to the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders Fund. Arlington paid an average $239,114 in purses last year, which apparently helped raise field size slightly from 7.23 starters per race to 7.46.

Golden Gate Fields was reportedly able to grow its handle by separating its post times from the biggest races across the country, racing secretary Patrick Mackey told the San Francisco Chronicle last August. With bettors more engaged due to the changes in withholding and some additional help from bad weather and cancellations in the East, Golden Gate was able to increase its out-of-state handle by 48% and bolster its total handle by 18%.

“We had competitive races for leading rider and trainer, and not a lot of races with 1-5 or 2-5 shots winning,” Mackey told the Chronicle. “The days of (trainer) Jerry (Hollendorfer) and (jockey) Russell (Baze) winning every race at 2-5 are gone. It’s a different product where you can find betting value. When you have gamblers behind you, they keep coming back.”


Leading Racetracks by % Increase in Avg. Daily Purse, ‘17-’18

Includes racetracks running 50 or more live race dates in 2018

Track (State)

’18 Dates

2018 Avg. Starter”

2018 Daily Avg. Purse

% Chg. Avg. ‘17-’18

2018 Gross Purse

Delta Downs (LA)






Mahoning Valley Race Course (OH)






Gulfstream Park (FL)






Arlington Int’l Racecourse (IL)






JACKS Thistledown (OH)






Aqueduct (NY)






Albuquerque Downs (NM)






Churchill Downs (KY)






Laurel Park (MD)






Golden Gate Fields (CA)






Waldrop: Online Betting On Horse Racing Still Legal Despite Justice Department Reversal On Wire Act


Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association

Legal online wagering on horse racing will not be directly affected by a new U.S. government Department of Justice opinion on the Wire Act but could have an indirect impact on the willingness of banks and credit card companies to allow horseplayers to fund their advance deposit wagering accounts.

The opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, first reported by, reversed a 2011 position taken during the Obama administration stating the Wire Act – a 1961 law prohibiting transmission of betting or betting information across state lines – only applied to sports betting. The reversal by the Trump administration may create an atmosphere of uncertainty among businesses operating online casinos, interstate lotteries and daily fantasy sports contests, along with banks and credit card companies.

The Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, amended in 2000 to include telephone and other electronic forms of wagering in states where that type of betting is legal, provides an explicit exemption for horse racing to conduct interstate wagering.

Despite that exemption, many banks and credit card companies were slow to permit the use of credit cards to fund advance deposit wagering accounts. Breakthroughs were made in recent years, however, and Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, wants to make sure this new Justice Department opinion does not reverse the trend.

“Still reviewing this long and complicated opinion but it appears to return us to 2011 when casinos and lotteries were fearful of operating online but the horse industry online presence through ADWs was already well established,” Waldrop told the Paulick Report via email. “So online wagering on horse racing that is conducted in compliance with the IHA is still legal.  We will be working with allies on the (Capitol) Hill to assure banks and credit card processors that it is still legal to allow their credit cards to be used to fund ADW wagering accounts. We also expect the next version of the Schumer/Hatch sports betting bill to have extensive language sorting out the application of the Wire Act to all sorts of online betting transactions.”

The order by the Justice Department is dated Nov. 2, days before the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The move was applauded by the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, a group widely believed to be funded by Sands casino operator and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, an opponent of online gaming.


New Withholding, Reporting Rules Near Enactment

A document outlining upcoming federal regulatory actions released July 20 by The White House indicates that modernized tax guidance relating to withholding and reporting of pari-mutuel winnings is nearing enactment, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association said.

The “Current Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions” describes the Amendment of 3402(q) Regulations providing new rules for pari-mutuel wagering as in the final rule stage.

The regulation, detailed by the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Treasury in the Dec. 30, 2016 Federal Register in a section titled “Withholding on Payments of Certain Gambling Winnings,” accomplishes goals started and spearheaded by the NTRA three years ago.

“We are pleased to see this latest indication that the regulation continues to make its way toward final approval,” said NTRA president and CEO Alex Waldrop in a release. “We take nothing for granted, though, and will continue to work closely with our allies in Washington, D.C., to get this important change completed. We urge Treasury and the IRS to act quickly so horseplayers, the racing industry, and the federal government can all start benefitting from these landmark rules.”

The proposed regulations, developed with the NTRA’s guidance, clarify “the amount of the wager” to include the entire amount wagered into a specific pari-mutuel pool by an individual—not just the winning base unit as is the case today—so long as all wagers made into a specific pool by an individual are made on a single tote ticket if the wager is placed onsite. The proposed regulations would have the same positive results for advance deposit wagering customers and would not impact how those wagers are currently made.

Currently a $1 trifecta wheel of 10 combinations is viewed as 10 bets of $1 each. If a payout of $600 or more at odds of 300-1 or higher is awarded, that payout must be reported to the IRS. If that same wager pays $5,000 or more on odds of 300-1 or higher, some of the winnings must immediately be withheld for taxes.

The change would affect how the 300-1 threshold is determined. Under the change, the $10 ticket in the scenario above would be considered a $10 wager. To reach 300-1 odds, the payout must be more than $3,010, which means far fewer big payouts will need to be reported.

The NTRA said the regulations will positively impact a significant percentage of winning wagers, particularly those involving multi-horse or multi-race exotic wagers, and result in tens of millions of dollars in additional pari-mutuel churn.

Twelve Congressmen Sign Letter Urging Treasury To Enact Recently Proposed Tax Reporting, Withholding Regulations

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Wednesday, April 12, 2017) – Twelve members of Congress from a number of key racing states have signed a letter delivered to the Department of Treasury requesting that recently proposed Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations relating to the way pari-mutuel winnings are calculated for tax withholding and reporting purposes be finalized as soon as possible.

The letter was in response to actions taken by the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in late December when the Treasury issued proposed regulations relating to withholding and reporting of pari-mutuel winnings. The 31-page Treasury document, entitled “Withholding on Payments of Certain Gambling Winnings,” accomplishes the goals championed by the NTRA nearly three years ago to modernize regulations related to pari-mutuel winnings. The proposed regulations will positively impact a significant percentage of winning wagers, particularly those involving multi-horse or multi-race wagers, and are expected to result in tens of millions of dollars in additional pari-mutuel wagering.

The proposed regulations clarify ‘the amount of the wager’ to include the entire amount wagered into a specific pari-mutuel pool by an individual—not just the winning base unit as is the case today—so long as all wagers made into a specific pool by an individual are made on a single totalizator ticket if the wager is placed onsite or through a single account if the wager is placed electronically.

The letter, which garnered bipartisan support, was co-authored by Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA). The additional signatories are Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), Rep. James Comer (R-KY), Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Rep. Donald Norcross (R-NJ), Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ), Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), Rep. Thomas Rooney (R-FL), Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY).

“As you know, these regulations would update existing Treasury rules (Treas. Reg. Sec. 31-3402(q)-1) governing the reporting and withholding of certain pari-mutuel wagers. These rules have not been updated since the 1970s and we were pleased that Treasury responded to our requests to bring these regulations up to date,” the Congressmen wrote in a letter dated April 4, only days after a 90-day public comment period concluded. “The proposal better reflects the current pari-mutuel wagering environment and will lead to increased compliance while reducing burdensome paperwork, creating an overall system that will be more accurate and equitable for taxpayers.

“We look forward to these modernized rules being fully implemented and request that you act on this matter as quickly as practicable,” the letter concluded.

A copy of the full letter can be accessed at the following link:

“There is widespread agreement that these newly proposed Treasury regulations will reduce burdensome paperwork while creating a new system that is more accurate and equitable for taxpayers,” said NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop. “Throughout this process, the issue has received bipartisan support from members of Congress and we thank Representatives Yarmuth and Meehan, along with the other co-signatories, for leading the effort to modernize these regulations related to pari-mutuel winnings.”

About the NTRA

The NTRA, based in Lexington, Ky., is a broad-based coalition of more than 100 horse racing interests and thousands of individual stakeholders consisting of horseplayers, racetrack operators, owners, breeders, trainers and affiliated horse racing associations, charged with increasing the popularity, welfare and integrity of Thoroughbred racing through consensus-based leadership, legislative advocacy, safety and integrity initiatives, fan engagement and corporate partner development. The NTRA owns and manages the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance,, the Eclipse Awards, the National Handicapping Championship, NTRA Advantage, a corporate partner sales and sponsorship program, and Horse PAC, a federal political action committee. NTRA press releases appear on, Twitter (@ntra) and Facebook (

NTRA Keeping Busy on Tax Withholding, Reporting Changes

NTRA Keeping Busy on Tax Withholding, Reporting Changes

When it comes to making industry favorable changes on tax withholding and reporting of pari-mutuel winnings a reality this year, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association is continuing its efforts to what it hopes will be a successful finish, while working with the industry to make sure it will quickly transition to the new rules.

While the United States Treasury will not say much either way during the current 90-day comment period that runs through the end of the month, in December it issued a 31-page document that clarifies the total bet amount on a ticket will be used to determine the 300-1 threshold in reporting and withholding of large winnings.

Currently a $1 trifecta wheel of 10 combinations is viewed as 10 bets of $1 each. If a payout of $600 or more at odds of 300-1 or higher is awarded, that payout must be reported to the IRS. If that same wager pays $5,000 or more on odds of 300-1 or higher, some of the winnings must immediately be withheld for taxes.

The change would affect how the 300-1 threshold is determined. Under the change, the $10 ticket in the scenario above would be considered a $10 wager. To reach 300-1 odds, the payout must be more than $3,010, which means far fewer big payouts will need to be reported.

While the December report was favorable, the NTRA is working to make sure the changes clear any final hurdles while also acting to make sure horse racing will be ready to act should the changes become official.

During the 90-day comment period, the NTRA again called on the industry to show its support through e-mails in support of the change. The NTRA reports that virtually every comment submitted to the Treasury has been supportive of the proposed regulatory changes, and there appears to be no organized opposition to the updates.

Also, the NTRA is actively seeking the support of a bipartisan group of members of Congress from key racing states to urge the Treasury to finalize the changes in a timely manner once the public comment period concludes March 30. While nothing is guaranteed, it is expected to take a month to 45 days to become official after the public comment period closes.

The NTRA is leading the way on making sure the industry is ready to put the changes in place.

“We’re determined to implement this new tax structure on Day One without a hitch,” said NTRA president Alex Waldrop. “There are a lot of moving parts but fortunately everybody is working together. We have a broad cross-section of the industry, technology providers who are familiarizing themselves with the (regulations). We’re very optimistic.”

The NTRA continues to engage with its lobbyists in Washington, as well as major tote companies, racetrack operators, and ADWs—both individually and as a group—to outline an implementation plan for the proposed rules. Just last week, the NTRA led a conference call that included officials from tote companies AmTote, United Tote, and Sportech; as well as the Las Vegas Dissemination Company, William Hill, TVG, Thoroughbred Racing Associations, and the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, among others.

Tote companies would update their software to recognize the new definition of how the 300-1 threshold is determined.

“The collaboration around this effort is unprecedented and we are confident that we will be prepared to implement these important regulatory changes as soon as the new regulations become law,” said NTRA chief operating officer Keith Chamblin.

The NTRA also plans additional communication and education for horseplayers. A big part of that will be emphasizing the potential advantages of including multiple wagers on a single ticket.

“We realize that there may be a period of adjustment for customers as they gain a better understanding of the benefits derived from the new regulations,” Chamblin said. “A customer communications plan already is under way and will continue well after the proposed regulations become law.”

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