Race bettors wagered a record amount on the 143rd annual Kentucky Derby thanks in large part to strong online wagering activity.
Lousy weather kept many fans away from the Churchill Downs racetrack this weekend, which culminated in betting favorite Always Dreaming winning the marquee race. The event attracted just over 158k spectators, the seventh largest figure in the race’s illustrious history.
Despite the reduced attendance, all-source wagering on Saturday’s races hit a new record of $209.2m, 8.6% higher than last year’s total and 9% better than 2015’s then-record $194.3m. Wagering on the actual marquee race was up 12% from last year and up 1% from 2015’s tally.
The disparity between on-site attendance and betting volume was mirrored for the broader Derby Week festivities, which saw attendance falling 7% from 2016 to 349k, while all-sources betting handle for Derby Week rose 7% to a new record $285.1m.
TwinSpires.com, the online advance deposit wagering site of Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI), was a significant contributor to 2017’s record-setting performance. TwinSpire’s Derby Day racing handle improved 22% year-on-year to $32.8m, while online wagering on the marquee race was also up 22% to $20.1m.
Wagering interest and the bad weather undoubtedly contributed to NBC’s Saturday afternoon Derby coverage hitting the second-best overnight rating in the past 25 years. NBC enjoyed a 10.5 rating, 12% higher than 2016’s figure.
CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen offered “heartfelt thanks” to Kentucky Derby fans for making the 2017 event “an amazing spectacle, rain or shine.” Carstanjen told investors that the strong wagering activity would likely mean adjusted earnings of between $4m and $6m higher than the sum contributed by 2016’s Derby.
CDI’s recent Q1 2017 earnings report showed similarly opposite trajectories of its online and track-based wagering operations. While track-based revenue was down roughly 10% year-on-year, TwinSpires reported betting handle rising nearly 7% in the three months ending March 31.