Total wagering at Md. tracks up in '06

January 05, 2007|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN REPORTER

Aided by a record attendance at the Preakness and strong export numbers, total wagering improved last year for the tracks operated by the Maryland Jockey Club.

All-sources handle totaled $960.2 million, an increase of more than $64 million (or 7.2 percent) over 2005 figures, and the average daily handle from all sources rose more than 15 percent to $4.1 million despite 11 fewer days of live racing at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park.

Lou Raffetto, president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, found the results "encouraging. The handle on Maryland racing is up $92 million outside the state. Obviously, our product has been well-received. At the same time we are up 2 percent on live racing. The trend at most tracks across the country is to have an increase in handle on the incoming signals while live racing decreases. Anytime the live product is up, it is a very positive sign."

The largest crowd ever to watch a Maryland sporting event, 118,402, attended the Preakness, marking the sixth straight year of six-figure attendance. Betting for the day totaled more than $87.5 million, the third largest in the race's 131-year history. Of that number, $56.4 million was wagered on the Preakness itself.

In addition, bettors risked more than $5.5 million on the Nov. 25 Fall Festival of Racing, which is headlined by the Grade I De Francis Dash, and mutuel machines accepted $4.9 million on the Maryland Million card in October, the second highest total ever bet on the event.

Raffetto said the organization has "tried to focus on the big-event days. I think we have done an excellent job of growing the handle by getting those days in front of the wagering public. It is a struggle because of the competitive disadvantage that we face [slots in three neighboring states boosting purses]. In light of that, we are doing everything we can to hold our own in this environment."

Figures for the Laurel Park winter meeting, the Pimlico spring stand and the Laurel fall meeting all showed overall increases. The average daily handle was up nearly 8 percent at the Laurel session that concluded Dec. 21.

kent.baker@baltsun.com

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