Arlington Park Handle, Purses Spike

All-sources wagering increased 10% during first half of Arlington Park meet.

A number of initiatives, including a refocused marketing plan and working with other Chicago area teams and companies, has led to a resurgence in business at Arlington Park, one of North America’s most iconic racetracks.

At the mid-point of the 90-day meet, all-sources average daily handle at Arlington is 10% ahead of the comparable figure for the same number of days in 2011.

Although Arlington Park and other tracks owned by Churchill Downs, Inc., do not report wagering and attendance figures, except for major events, numbers obtained from reports filed with the Illinois Racing Board show that through July 15, all-source wagering had averaged $3,209,630 for the first 45 days of the meet, compared with $2,929,053 through the first 44 days of 2011 (excluded was the May 29, 2011, card when live racing was canceled after the first two races).

Based on the first half of the year, Arlington is well on its way to consecutive seasons of increased handle after a steep decline from 2009 to 2010.

During the track’s 85-day meet in 2011, average daily all-sources handle of $3,007,493 was up 3% over the $2,907,844 average for a 91-day meet in 2010. In 2009, all-sources wagering averaged $4,003,711 for a 98-day meet.

Tony Petrillo, Arlington Park’s general manager, said the track has been trying different ways to get new patrons to the track while at the same time taking care of their regular players. Although he was unable to provide attendance figures (in keeping with corporate policy), he said the efforts have been successful in getting the track noticed.

Arlington has restructured its marketing plan this year so that it is “spread across a lot more mediums than in the past” and also has advertisements that increase awareness of when the track is open. In addition, the track has expanded its on-track entertainment offerings as a way of attracting different demographics of patrons.

Also, the track has partnered with other Chicago-area sports franchises, colleges and universities, and businesses to bring their fans, students, and customers to the track on special nights. He said most of the participants in that venture have been pleased with the amenities offered by Arlington.

“We have tried to reinvent ourselves by trying to raise top of mind awareness,” Petrillo said.

Among the initiatives taken to improve handle have been focus groups with the track’s largest volume bettors to gauge their preferences for different types of wagers, especially exotics. He said introduction of the FastBet mobile wagering had also been popular and now makes up the largest portion of account wagering activity on Arlington’s races.

In addition to positive handle, Arlington has experienced a spike in purses this year, thanks in part to money the track received from the Illinois Horse Racing Equity Trust Fund proceeds. Of the $140 million in the fund, generated by a 3% tax on casinos in the state, approximately $26.3 million is being used to fund purses at Arlington.

Through the first 45 days of the meet, the track had distributed $13,735,531 in purses, compared with $9,337,851 for the first 44 days of 2011. Despite the increase in purses, Arlington has experienced a slight decline in the number of horses per race. Through the first half of 2012, there were an average 8.13 starters per race for the 427 races run at the track, compared with 8.26 runners per race for 423 races through the same period a year ago.

Petrillo said field sizes should pick up during the second half of the live racing season when there are more stakes, including the “International Racing Festival” highlighted by the track’s signature race, the Arlington Million (gr. IT).

With more of the Equity Fund money going into purses between now and the end of the meet, Arlington’s average daily purse distribution of about $380,000 will rank among the tops in the country.

Petrillo said he expects more horsemen, especially those who raced at the recently completed Churchill Downs spring meet„ to relocate or ship to Arlington due to the strength of the purse structure.