Laurel Park

Laurel Park

Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club

Laurel Gets First VLT-Funded Purse Increase

Laurel Park in Maryland will raise purses 16% beginning Feb. 2.

Video lottery terminal revenue from two Maryland casinos will fund a 16% increase in purses at Laurel Park effective Feb. 2.

It’s the first gaming-related purse hike since the first casino—Hollywood Casino at Perryville—began operating at the end of September 2010. Ocean Downs Casino opened Jan. 4.

Purses earn 7% of VLT revenue, with 80% of that amount going to Thoroughbred racing. Through Dec. 31, the machines produced $1.93 million for purses for Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing, according to Maryland Lottery statistics.

Maryland Jockey Club officials said Jan. 21 average daily overnight purses will rise to about $186,000, up from the current $160,000.

“This will give our racing office a chance to compete with surrounding states that have used revenue from slot machines to become significant players in the Mid-Atlantic region,” MJC president Tom Chuckas said in a statement. “The purse increase should mean larger and more competitive fields, meaning a boost in interest on our product from bettors around the country.”

Field size since the meet began Jan. 1 has averaged about 7.3 horses per race. Horsemen’s representatives in December said uncertainty over whether Laurel would open in January led to a 12% reduction in the horse population as trainers made arrangements to go elsewhere, including Florida.

Most purses will increase $2,000-$3,000, officials said. The minimum purse, for maiden claiming $8,000 and $5,000 non-winners of two races lifetime, will be $10,000, up from $8,000. Maiden special weight events will go for $30,000, up from $28,000. The purse for the top allowance event will rise from $40,000 to $41,000.

Laurel is racing on a Wednesday-through-Saturday schedule through the end of March, with a Monday card on the President’s Day holiday. Pimlico Race Course is scheduled to open April 1, with the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) set for May 21.