Pari-mutuel wagering in California declined by $501 million during fiscal year 2009-10, and betting through advance deposit, the only growth area in the state's handle for the past several years, also dipped slightly.
Figures from the California Horse Racing Board's annual report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, provided more bad news for racing in the state. Total handle -- the amount wagered in California and bet in other racing jurisdictions and merged into state pools -- was down 12.7% from the preceding 12 months, dropping from more than $3.942 billion to $3.441 billion. Total pari-mutuel handle has plummeted nearly $1 billion since 2007-08, when about $4.39 billion was wagered.
The totals are for all forms of horse racing in the state, including Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, harness, and mixed breed.
Advance deposit wagering by computer or telephone through four authorized state providers slipped by almost 0.5%, or $3.2 million, from $669.58 million two years ago, to $666.38 in 2009-10. It was the first time ADW handle had fallen since it was adopted in California in 2002.
Significantly, in spite of the dip, ADW handle accounted for 19.36% of all wagering in 2009-10, up from 16.98% just two years ago.
Ontrack handle was off by $97 million, or 16.4% (from $590 million to $493 million), and accounted for just 14.3% of the total bet. Offtrack betting at state simulcast facilities was down $92 million (from about $1 billion to $908 million), a dip of 9.2% while holding steady at 26.4% of the total handle. Out-of-state wagers, representing 39.9% of the overall common pool, fell from $2.31 billion to just below $2.04 billion, or nearly 12%.
"I think we're beating this same old horse to death," CHRB executive director Kirk Breed said.
The same factors that have been roiling horse racing for the past few years -- chiefly the recession, lack of employment, competition for the gambling dollar, and fewer race days -- continue to plague the sport, Breed said. But he also believes racing, due in part to horse breakdowns and use of medications, has lost the support of the sporting public.
"We need to look at the health of the entire industry, the health of our horse inventory," Breed said. "And we kind of go back to the beginning and say, 'How do we get people to go back to the races?' We do that with good, sound, fair racing.
"We have based the health of our game on the gambler. But they aren't betting as much. Why? Because we aren't putting on as good of a show. As a regulator, I have to put the health and safety of the horse and rider first. But if the track owners are going to stay in business, they are going to have to get people in the door."
Purses dipped 10.37% in 2009-10, from $151.57 million in 2008-09 to $135.84 million, according to the report, which was released Feb. 3. Track commissions to the state's racing associations were off 10.74%, from $154.6 million to about $138 million.
Awards for the state breeders' incentive program fell 8.79% (from $13.8 million to $12.6 million), while revenue derived from simulcast fees for such categories as the stabling and vanning fund, promotion of racing, simulcast expenses, and guest site fees to authorized off-track betting facilities, declined 11.5%, from $81.6 million to $72.2 million.
The best statistical news in the 59-page report came in the area of equine fatalities at racetrack enclosures, which showed a decline of 10.3% from 320 in 2008-09 to 287 last year. But even that was tempered by the fact most of the improvement came in the area of non-exercise-related deaths, such as colic, colitis and enteritis, or respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. Ontrack racing and training fatalities were down only modestly, from 229 to 2008-09 to to 220 last year.
Breed said he's concerned that equine fatalities, an area of emphasis in the state in recent years, "haven't declined more than they have."
"We are losing our horse inventory, we're seeing a reduction in how long these horses race, and we can't afford it," he said.
For the first time, he noted, the annual report included a page devoted to recommendations and strategies for racing's future in the state. Among the suggestions:
-- Maximizing the CHRB and University of California-Davis' well-regarded necropsy program to better understand racing injuries and investigate more fully racing and training accidents, injuries and fatalities;
-- Analyzing and making recommendations for better veterinary and training practices, and improving drug-testing and medication practices;
-- Developing safety standards for the evaluation and control of racetrack surfaces, including improvements in materials and maintenance.
Breed also said he wants to assure that racing associations are allocating enough money to promote racing effectively by requiring them to provide more complete financial statements.
The annual report for 2009-10 and archived reports dating back to 1996-97 are available on the publications link of the CHRB website, www.chrb.ca.gov.