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Calder Wagering Drops 11.7%

Handle totaled $334 million from 152 days of racing

Wagering in Florida on Calder Race Course’s recently concluded eight-month season fell 11.7% from its previous season, according to the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

Handle under that measurement for 2009-2010 totaled $334 million for the track’s combined Calder and Tropical at Calder Meets, which ran from April 24 through Jan. 2 and had 152 live race dates. Handle under that measurement was $378.3 million in 2008-2009, including 160 live race dates.

The Florida DPMW data is for live and simulcast bets made at the Miami Gardens, Fla., track during its meets and bets on Calder races and its imported Thoroughbred races at other pari-mutuel facilities in Florida. It does not include bets made on Calder races at racetracks and other facilities outside Florida or bets on Calder races through advance deposit wagering (ADW) outlets. 

Thus, the Florida DPMW handle totals are not all-sources for Calder races although they reflect trends of the racing industry’s overall 2009 drop in handle.  For example, the state regulator’s data show that betting at Calder on Calder races fell 18.8%, from $33.5 million in 2008 to $27.2 million in 2009.

Calder does not announce daily all-sources handle. Its parent Churchill Downs Inc. discloses each quarter’s all-sources handle for Calder and its three other tracks in quarterly reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The past two years’ Calder handle numbers are down significantly from 2007-2008, when it had $490 million in Florida DPMW-measured handle and 172 live race dates.

Calder’s handle dropped during 2009 amid a year when total wagering on U.S. Thoroughbred racing fell 9.9%, according to Equibase Co. In figures released on Jan. 6, Equibase reported that the industry’s handle declined from approximately $13.7 billion in 2008 to approximately $12.3 billion in 2009.

John Marshall, Calder’s vice president and general manager of racing, said the track “had our own set of challenges and adversities” in 2009, as well as dealing with the recession that impacted the racing industry.

He noted that Calder entered 2009 following the previous year in which handle slumped amid contract disputes that pitted the track and CDI against the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

For several periods during 2008, the Florida HBPA prevented Calder from sending its signal to some tracks outside Florida and to some advance deposit wagering services. Also for several months, horsemen’s groups in several states prevented tracks from sending signals to Calder, and to other Florida locations that take Calder’s imported signals.

The disputes reduced Calder’s 2008 handle by amounts that cannot be determined. There also is a widespread view that the 2008 disputes led to a decline in bettors, including attendance at Calder, and that some did not return at previous levels in 2009.

Also in 2009, prolonged stretches of heavy rains cut into Calder’s turf schedule and led to smaller fields in other races--for an impact on handle that cannot be determined.

Calder ran 203 turf races during its recent season, compared with 292 in 2008-2009, Marshall said.

In December 2009, after a horse that had been stabled at the track died from equine herpes virus (EHV-1), Calder quarantined three barns for three weeks and would not let horses from other tracks and training facilities come in to race for two weeks.

Amid the quarantine, Calder cancelled the Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) and My Charmer Handicap (gr. IIIT) that were scheduled for Dec. 5.

“But we withstood the pressures and finished strongly, with the kind of  racing that fans enjoy and are used to at Calder,” Marshall said. “We are excited about 2010. Once we begin our casino gaming, we expect positive impact for racing, poker, and our entire operations.”

The Blood-Horse review of data from Equibase shows Calder had several strong all-sources handle days in late December. On Dec. 26, a Saturday with three graded stakes and turf racing, Calder had just over $4.6 million in all-sources handle for a 12-race card.

Calder, now officially known as Calder Casino & Race Course, plans to open its casino late this month. The casino building, with 1,200 Las Vegas-style slot machines, is adjacent to Calder’s grandstand/clubhouse building
In July 2008, Calder signed a 10-year agreement with the Florida HBPA and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association for distribution of portions of slot machine revenues to purses and breeders’ awards.

During the first three full years of its slots operation, Calder will pay a minimum of $14.375 million for purses and breeders’ awards. The two horsemen’s groups are guaranteed a combined 6.75% of pre-tax slots revenue for the remainder of the 10-year term.

Marshall said Calder “worked very closely with the FHBPA” in 2009 on issues including the quarantine and on managing the purse account.

He said Calder ended the Tropical meet with an underpayment in the purse account.

Thus, additional purse money will be available when the track opens its Calder meet in late April. Calder has not announced its 2010 schedule. But Gulfstream Park will end its season on Saturday, April 24. Thus, Calder likely will open the following day.

Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs take Calder’s live and imported signals. So do approximately 20 Greyhound tracks and jai-alai frontons in Florida.

The Florida DPMW data for Florida-based handle show a 13.2% decline from $97.8 million at the 2008 Tropical meet to $84.9 million at the 2009 Tropical meet.

Here is a breakdown of those numbers for Calder as a live and host track.

* Wagering at Calder on Calder races fell 18%, from $9.9 million to $8.1 million.

* Wagering at Calder on simulcasts of races it carries from tracks in other states fell 12%, from $18.9 million to $16.7 million.

* Wagering at other Florida pari-mutuel facilities on Calder races fell 24%, from $10.1 million to $7.7 million.

* Wagering at other Florida pari-mutuels on simulcasts from tracks in other states that Calder takes as host and then sends to guests fell 11%, from $58.9 million to $52.4 million.