Handle Down, Purses Up for NYRA in 2008

All-sources handle for all New York Racing Association tracks declined 2.1% in 2008.

All-sources handle for all New York Racing Association tracks declined 2.1% in 2008, but purses grew 3.1%, it was reported Jan. 22.

Handle on races at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course went from $2,543,796,141 in 2007 to $2,489,276,587 last year, a 2.1% decline, while the daily average wagering on NYRA races from all sources fell 3.7%, from $10,382,841 to $9,997,095.

Nationwide, wagering on Thoroughbred racing fell 7.2%, with declines accelerating in the second half of the year, culminating in a 20.3% drop in December. A similar drop-off was seen in other facets of the gaming industry, such as Atlantic City casinos, where gambling revenues fell 7.6% in 2008, with an 18.7% decline in December alone, according to a NYRA news release. 

NYRA’s on-track handle totaled $415,220,474 last year, down 3.3% from $429,420,826. Daily average on-track handle was $1,667,552, down 4.9% from the 2007 average of $1,752,738.

In 2008, 1,735,717 fans attended 249 race days, down 5.7% from the 1,841,462 who attended the 245 race days of 2007. Daily average attendance was off 7.2%, from 7,516 to 6,971. A significant portion of the attendance decline came during the Saratoga meet, which was hurt by a several weeks of dismal weather along with the effects of a slumping economy.

But at a time when purse payouts dropped 1.3% nationwide, NYRA’s purses grew by 3.1%, from $117,814,278 to $121,414,236, with daily average purses rising 1.4% to $487,607, up from $480,875 in 2007. Average betting interests per race nudged upwards last year by 0.2% to 7.91.

Last year will also be remembered as the year NYRA emerged from bankruptcy with a 25-year franchise to operate Thoroughbred racing at New York’s three main Thoroughbred tracks.

“Although we were off to a strong start in 2008, the slumping economy caught up with us in the second half of the year,” NYRA president and chief executive officer Charles Hayward said in the release. “However, despite the decline in handle, NYRA outperformed the industry as a whole in 2008.”

Trainer Gary Contessa and jockey Alan Garcia both put up big numbers in 2008. Contessa, with 150 wins, topped the trainer standings for the third consecutive year, while Garcia won 220 races for his first NYRA leading jockey title.