Indiana Downs reported their handle figures for the recently concluded meet today.
The Indiana Downs product generated nearly $61 million in total handle, an increase of 19.5% from 2008. Average starters per race for both the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse programs also increased from 8.6 in 2008 to 8.8 in 2009. "We keep finding ways to bring new outlets on board. We had Canada on board this year. Hopefully we can find a few more markets."
Conversely, so did Hollywood Park.
Using the track's figures, Hollywood had a drop in total all-sources handle of about 18 percent from last year's 60-day meet.
That is quite a juxtaposition. However in several ways it is explicable, if we look at what drives handle.
Field size was up in Indiana. Field size at Hollywood was poor. Larger field size equates larger handles.
The signal at Indiana Downs has never been tinkered with. They offer it out, at a low price, so virtually everyone who wants to play it can and have been able to for some time. Hollywood on the other hand has had signal disruptions as recent as last meet. In addition, because Indiana offer their signal out at a very good price, places that rebate to small and large players can use that edge to lower the effective takeout to players. Hollywood charges a high signal fee. Lower signal fee = Lower takeout for players = Higher handle. This is why HANA was publicly and vociferously opposed to the THG "1/3, 1/3, 1/3 model" they were pushing last year regarding signal fees - it would have been a takeout increase, and takeout increases hurt handle.
Short fields on poly versus large fields on dirt will tend to be at a disadvantage as well with horseplayers who have myriad choices. Indiana won that battle.
We make raising handles in racing some sort of nebulous and unattainable ideal. The empirical data shows otherwise - if you offer your product out to anyone who wants it without holding them for ransom, make it bettable and competitive, make field sizes large, and offer your signal at a low cost so ADW's are allowed to lower the takeout on their players, your handle will show improvement. This is proven time and time again to be a successful alchemy.
H/T to "Inside the Pylons" at Paceadvantage.com.