By Jim Freer and Barry Unterbrink
Even though Gulfstream Park is racing with extremely limited on-site betting, total handle on its races is matching the strong pace of its 2019-2020 championship meet.
While precise data are not available, there are strong indications that Gulfstream's absence of spectators and live handle is being made up by an increase in advance deposit wagering (ADW)--in which customers have accounts for betting via computers or telephones.
Through last Sunday, Jan. 31 the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track had daily average total handle of $10.52 million through the first 44 days of its 2020-2021 championship meet, according to HorseRacingFLA'a review of Equibase charts.
That is just 0.2 percent lower than Gulfstream's daily average of $10.72 million for 47 race days through Feb. 2, 2021--the comparable period for 2019-2020.
During last season's championship meet, Gulfstream provided full access to spectators until March 15, 2020. Since then, it has not been open to what it calls "general spectators" due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest indication of Gulfstream's strong 2020-2021 handle was on Saturday, Jan. 30 when it reported total handle of $21,870,780. That was a record for its annual Holy Bull day, when it holds the Holy Bull (a Triple Crown prep) and four other Grade 3 stakes.
The previous Holy Bull day handle record was $19,775,707 on Feb. 4, 2017. Total Holy Bull day handle last year was $18,189,516 on Feb. 1. All three days had twelve races and clear weather. In 2017 and 2020, Gulfstream had full access to spectators on Holy Bull days.
Gulfstream will close its championship meet on March 28. In 2019-2020 its daily average handle of $11.3 million was its all-time record for a race meet.
This year Gulfstream opened the restaurants on its second and third floors, with wagering, on Jan. 23 when it held the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (Grade 1) and six other graded stakes. Patrons were required to wear masks, and there were social distancing and sanitization protocols.
On previous Pegasus days, there were an estimated 7,000 or more fans on Gulfstream's ground floor. This year, on Pegasus day as on other days during the current meet, Gulfstream allowed only trainers and owners with horses running into that area.
Wagering on Pegasus day was $40,716,782 for twelve races this year--down from $41,896,453 in 2020.
Other than on Pegasus day, Gulfstream has allowed spectators only for what it calls a "limited number" of luxury suite rentals and private viewings of races.
Gulfstream did not disclose how much of its handle has been on-track on any days during the current meet.
Gulfstream has not indicated when it might re-open the second and third floors on a periodic basis and has not indicated any plans for re-opening its ground floor.
On weekends, the luxury suites and Flamingo restaurant on the third floor and the Ten Palms restaurant on the second floor provide large revenues, on which precise numbers are not available.
Data from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering indicate that Gulfstream's live handle as a percentage of total handle has been gradually declining over the last ten years. That mirrors a national trend.
Live handle was about 6 percent of Gulfstream's total handle during Florida's 2018-2019 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, 2019 That was the most recent fiscal year in which Gulfstream and other Florida businesses were not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Total handle (also known as all-sources handle) is made up of live handle and bets made at other pari-mutuels, at OTB offices and other simulcast locations, at legal sports books in Nevada and other states and on ADWs.
Gulfstream's popularity among ADW bettors has been growing for several years.
Betting on U.S. thoroughbred races via ADWs surged from $2.1 billion during the six months between April and September in 2019 to $4.0 billion during those six months in 2020, according to the Oregon Racing Commission which monitors the national operations of ADWs.
HRFLA's review of Equibase charts shows that total handle on Gulfstream races grew from about $620 million during the April through September period in 2019 to about $1.0 billion in 2020. That mirrors the national increase in ADW betting.
The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, a Lexington, Ky.-based research group, estimates that ADWs accounted for about two-thirds of U.S. thoroughbred betting during the second half of last year.
We will have a report on full-year 2020 ADW betting when it becomes available within the next several weeks.