KEENELAND’S DISAPPOINTING FALL MEET

The Keeneland autumn meet concluded with all-sources wagering of $122.9 million and on-track wagering of $17.6 million.  These represented year-over-year declines of 12% and 3%, respectively.

The main concern Keeneland management should have is that handle for their October meet was down by 12% (as compared to October 2013) while year-over-year pari-mutuel wagering in the United States for October was up by 2.72%.  Using this latter benchmark, Keeneland all-sources pari-mutuel wagering was 14.72% below the norm for all U. S. racetracks and ADW services.

Some observers suggested that the decreases in handle were largely due to Keeneland’s switch from a synthetic racetrack to a dirt racetrack.  (Ironically, Keeneland had offered that American bettors prefer dirt races as a reason for abandoning a synthetic racetrack surface.)  Bettors, particularly big bettors, did not know how the newly-installed dirt track at Keeneland would play and what its biases might be.  It is plausible, therefore, that some of them took a wait-and-see attitude and bet less than usual or not at all.

Keeneland’s management cited the often unseasonably cool and rainy weather as an explanation.  Lending some support to their contention is the fact that on the days when the weather was good–on the final six days of the meet–attendance figures exceeded those for the same days in 2013.

The forgoing reasons are not mutually exclusive, of course, and thus they all no doubt have an element of truth, and there may be other reasons as well, such as short fields that serve to depress handle or even competition from an improved University of Kentucky football team.

The main cause of the overall decrease in handle of 12% came from attrition in advance deposit wagering. The evidence for this assertion is threefold:  (1) while average daily attendance was down by 5.6% from the fall of 2013, on-track handle declined by only 3%; (2) advance deposit wagering accounted for nearly 86% of all-sources wagering; and (3) the vast majority of advance deposit wagering bettors were not affected by unseasonably cool and rainy weather.

Subsequent meets at Keeneland will reveal whether the disappointing autumn 2014 meet was an aberration.  What should focus the attention of Keeneland’s board of directors and top management is that wagering at a premier racetrack like Keeneland decreased by double digits in a month in which wagering at racetracks and ADW companies in the United States increased.

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