Kentucky Derby Betting Surges in 2022 Despite a Few Obstacles

Churchill Downs Inc. recently announced betting on this year’s big race was up 15% year-over-year to US$179 million and by 8% compared to the previous high of US$165.5 million recorded in 2019.

Last Updated: May 10, 2022 11:03 AM ET Read Time: 3 min
Rich Strike Kentucky Derby
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

Rich Strike shrugged off 80-1 odds and rocketed through most of the field last weekend to win the 148th Kentucky Derby, wagering on which hit an all-time high despite a few bumps in the road that bettors had to overcome themselves. 

Churchill Downs Inc. recently announced betting on this year’s big race was up 15% year-over-year to US$179 million and by 8% compared to the previous high of US$165.5 million recorded in 2019. 

CDI added that wagering from all sources on the 2022 Kentucky Derby Day program amounted to US$273.8 million, a 17% jump over 2021 and 9% more than the previous record of US$250.9 million set in 2019. 

The US$391.8 million in wagering for Derby week overall this year was also a record, a 25% increase compared to 2021 and a 14% rise over the prior high of US$343 million posted in 2019.

“We are deeply grateful to all of the fans of the Kentucky Derby around the world who once again made this an amazing and memorable experience,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Kentucky-based CDI, in a press release. “We expect the Kentucky Derby Week Adjusted [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization] to reflect another record with $7 to $9 million of growth over the prior record in 2019.”

Cross-border boom

In Canada, Woodbine Entertainment Group reported Kentucky Derby-related wagering in its “home market area” — the province of Ontario, essentially — bounced back this year to around C$1.5 million. Woodbine’s handle includes action via the Toronto-based company’s HPIbet and Dark Horse Bets online platforms, as well as wagers made in-person at a racetrack and off-track betting facilities.

The racetrack operator’s Derby wagering for 2022 was up around 25% compared to 2021, spokesperson Jamie Dykstra noted in an email, as all brick-and-mortar locations were closed last year due to COVID-19-related restrictions. Woodbine's 2022 Derby handle was also double what it was in 2020, when the race was run in September, Dykstra said.

Yet the boom in Derby betting in the U.S. and Canada came as some bettors ran into obstacles in trying to make a wager.

TVG ran into "service interruptions" on Saturday, the company said. The Flutter Entertainment PLC-owned online betting platform is legally available to customers in more than 30 states, but TVG said the technical difficulties on Derby Day did not live up to its expectations. 

"We have identified the cause, a technical issue related to a third-party service provider, and are actively making changes to our platform to ensure better performance moving forward," TVG said in a statement on Monday.

The rebound in Derby betting in Ontario also came as the Woodbine-run wagering options were the only legal way to make a horse-racing bet last weekend in Canada’s most populous province. 

Canadian law restricts betting on horse races to federally-regulated, pari-mutuel-style wagering provided by racetrack operators. This meant that in Ontario, where the provincial government recently launched an online market for legal sports betting and casino gambling, provincially-regulated operators could not take bets on the Kentucky Derby. 

Woodbine, however, has been pushing for a role in Ontario’s iGaming market, as the provider of the betting engine for provincially-regulated sportsbook operators. If approved by federal watchdogs, Woodbine’s plan could allow Ontario customers to make horse-racing wagers via the same apps and websites they’re currently using to make bets on stick-and-ball sports. 

“Derby Day is one of our biggest days of the year, and we could have grown Derby Day exponentially,” Woodbine CEO Jim Lawson told Covers last week.

There are still two more legs of the horse-racing Triple Crown to go in 2022, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, as well as the 163rd running of Canada’s prestigious Queen’s Plate race. That leaves time for TVG to iron out any lingering issues and for Woodbine’s betting system to be inserted into Ontario’s iGaming market if regulators approve. 

“We're not seeing major hurdles,” Lawson said. “It's just taking time.”

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