parx 2023 handle numbers down slightly

By Dick Jerardi

Nothing goes up forever so after a record 2021 and another in 2022, the Parx handle numbers slipped a bit in 2023. Over 148 days in 2022, there was $417,483,194 ($2.82 million per day) bet on Parx races. Over 151 days in 2023, the total handle was $402,264,736 ($2.66 million per day). In 2021, the numbers for 144 days were $391,201,422 ($2.72 million per day).

The 2023 numbers, however, must come with a significant asterisk. The Parx fiscal year starts right after Christmas. In the three days after Christmas in 2021, the track handled $14 million. In 2022 (which goes on the 2023 ledger) during those same three days, the track handled $0 as it was closed due to a freeze/thaw issue that played havoc with the surface.

If that $14 million was extrapolated into the 2023 numbers, the average daily handle would have been $2.76 million and the total handle would have been $416 million, just off the 2022 numbers, albeit with three more racing days.

“We were down a good 5-6 percent most of the year,” Parx chief operating officer Joe Wilson said. “We bounced back really good in December.”

The Computer Assisted Wagering teams are such a big part of the handle these days that your handle sometimes depends on their affinity for your track.

“I think some of these bigger computer guys were just moving their money around,” Wilson said.

Trying to understand what affects handle numbers is more complicated than ever. When asked to evaluate the 2023 numbers, Wilson put them in a reasonable context.

“I thought it went good,” he said. “If you think about it, 2022 was such a big number over 2021 and 2020. At some point, you were going to go back to pre-pandemic. And we didn’t. So $417 (million) against $402 (million), pre-pandemic like $260 (million). I’d say we’re still doing pretty good.”

You can look at Pennsylvania Derby Day in two ways. No doubt, the all-day tropical storm played havoc with on-track attendance and handle. It was actually amazing that the great card went off without any issues.  But Parx was just about the only track opened in the mid-Atlantic so, if you wanted to bet on horses, you needed to bet Parx.

Whatever helped or hurt the numbers, the Pa. Derby Day’s bottom line handle was $17 million, second only to the record $18.8 million set on a perfect Saturday in 2022.

“That card was the strongest race card since I’ve been here,” Wilson said. “Believe it or not, those races held together.”

What also remains clear is that Pennsylvania Derby Day is the country’s biggest racing day every September. That has become established with the big fields and competitive races, anchored by the two $1million Grade I stakes, the Pennsylvania Derby and Cotillion.

On the last racing day of 2023, Wednesday, Dec. 27, with the aid of a $431,537 carryover in the Philly Big 5 which resulted in nearly $2 million in new bets on a mandatory distribution day, the Parx races attracted $6,540,103 which is believed to be the largest non-Pa. Derby Day handle in track history and certainly a nice way to start the numbers for 2024.


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