Thousands of racing fans flocked to Louisville over the weekend to celebrate the Kentucky Derby, and according to information from the city’s tourism bureau, Rich Strike wasn’t the only winner.
This year’s race marked the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started that Churchill Downs was allowed to hold the race without restrictions on attendance. Gov. Andy Beshear told reporters at the track Saturday there was “a special buzz” surrounding the Derby this year.
Churchill Downs officials announced 147,294 fans attended the Derby, and 100,188 fans attended Friday’s card highlighted by the Kentucky Oaks. That was about 9,000 fewer than the attendance for the 2019 Oaks and Derby race days, the last held under normal conditions.
The weather, which included storms Friday and cool, overcast skies Saturday, dampened crowds slightly. However, the event still attracted a long list of celebrities and other high-profile guests. Those in attendance Saturday included former President Donald Trump, whose super PAC held a $75,000-per-person event during the Derby, and current Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Despite attendance slightly lower than the last comparable year, Churchill Downs announced record wagering. The Derby itself generated a handle of $179 million, which was 8% better than the previous record set three years ago. Betting for the 14-race card on Saturday also set a record, with the $273.8 million topping the $250.9 million wagered in 2019.
The betting handle includes money bet at other tracks across the country and online through licensed wagering platforms, such as TwinSpires and TVG.
But the millions wagered at the track and spent on tickets weren’t the only dollars spent in the city and surrounding area. With thousands flocking to Louisville, the bars, restaurants, hotels and other venues saw significant traffic.
Rosanne Mastin, a spokeswoman for Louisville Tourism, told The Center Square that the estimated economic impact for the weekend was $366.8 million. That figure would easily exceed $400 million when considering other factors. That includes locals who avoid the track and celebrate at home with family, friends and other guests.
By Steve Bittenbender The Center Square contributor
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Reposted with permission