Gulfstream Park said its average daily all-sources handle rose 3.6% and that its average daily on-track handle was up 7.2% during this year’s first two months.
The Hallandale Beach, Fla., track provided data to The Blood-Horse on March 5, the day its parent Magna Entertainment Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
Gulfstream officials declined comment on MEC’s bankruptcy filing, other than saying that Gulfstream’s racing schedule and its other businesses will not be interrupted.
Gulfstream holds live racing Wednesdays through Sundays, and is scheduled to end its 2009 meeting on April 23. For the first time in several years, Gulfstream is not holding live racing on Mondays. The switch to five-day weeks has produced larger fields and is a main reason for the increase in average daily handle, said Mike Mullaney, the track’s media relations director.
Gulfstream averaged 8.65 starters per race for its 2008 meet. Through March 1, its 42nd day of live racing this year, that number was just under 10 starters.
Through March 1, Gulfstream had average daily all-sources handle of $8.9 million--up from $8.6 million for its first 42 days of 2008. For that period, average daily on-track handle rose increased $572,000 to about $617,000.
Gulfstream’s handle rose during a two-month stretch when total handle on U.S. thoroughbred races was down 6.8 percent from 2008, according to Thoroughbred Racing Economic Indicators released by Equibase Co.
On March 4, Equibase reported that total U.S. handle was just over $2.0 billion for the first two months of 2009. That handle was just under $2.2 billion for the first two months of 2008.
In addition to its switch to five-day race weeks, Gulfstream’s handle also has received a weather-related boost.
The December-February period was the driest on record in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
That is leading to concerns that the region’s water shortage will get worse and that brush fires will be heavy this spring in areas west of population centers.
But at Gulfstream, the main track has been rated fast for every race and no races have been taken off the turf. That has helped keep fields large, thus keeping races attractive for handicappers on-site and off-site.
With the turf course in need of moisture, Gulfstream did not hold any turf races on March 4 and March 5. On those days and the previous two days, Gulfstream irrigated the course with 700,000 gallons of water.
“We hope it will soak through and help the course for the remainder of the meet,” Mullaney said.
Gulfstream has free admission, and does not announce official attendance. However, crowds have been large on most Saturdays--which have been dry and mild.
Gulfstream has 420 year-round employees and 480 seasonal employees. There will be no layoffs due to Magna’s Chapter 11 filing, Mullaney said.
As always, there will be some seasonal layoffs after the racing season, he said.
In addition to racing, Gulfstream has employees in its casino rooms and restaurants.
Prior to MEC’s bankruptcy filing, one general question about its tracks was whether any purse money would be frozen. At Gulfstream, that was not an issue because the purses fund is controlled by the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
Even amid the recession, Gulfstream’s slot machines and poker play are up this year.
Gulfstream opened its casino in November 2006, and its total slots play and revenue per machine have been lower than at harness track Isle Racing & Casino at Pompano Park and Greyhound track Mardi Gras Race Track and Gaming.
But of the three Broward County pari-mutuels, only Gulfstream’s casino has shown a gain in slots revenue this year according to data from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.
Gulfstream’s January 2009 slots play was $54.8 million, compared with $49.3 million in January 2008--an 11.1 percent increase.
Total slots play at Isle and Mardi Gras remained higher than at Gulfstream. But comparing January 2009 to January 2008, slots play was down 11.4 percent at Isle and down 2.9 percent at Mardi Gras.
Data from the Florida DPMW through Feb. 22, 2009 indicate that slots play will be slightly higher at Gulfstream but down at the other two tracks for February 2009 compared with February 2008.
Bets in Gulfstream’s poker room increased from $338,365 in January 2008 to $397,536 in January 2009, according to the Florida DPMW. On March 1, a Sunday, Gulfstream had its all-time record poker receipts of $17,572.
Many racing fans still lament the changes, including fewer seats facing the track, that Gulfstream made when it opened its new clubhouse/casino building in 2006.
But Gulfstream has continued to make adjustments, including this year’s increase in the number of free parking places from about 3,000 to about 5,500. One popular new offering throughout the property is $1 draft beers.
“We feel that we offer recession-proof value,” Mullaney said.