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More Dates, More Bets at Indiana Downs

Indiana Downs posted higher total handle but a decrease in average daily handle.

Despite downward trends in wagering nationwide, Indiana Downs bucked the trend by staying relatively flat during its 54-day Thoroughbred meet that ended July 8.

The Shelbyville, Ind., racetrack generated more than $51 million in total handle, up nearly 8.2% from the $47.1 million handled in 48 days last year. Though total handle was up, the daily average slipped almost 3.8%, from $982,291 to $945,023, as the track carded 9.62 races per day, down from a 10-race average in 2007.

“I’m very, very pleased,” Indiana Downs general manager Jon Schuster said. “We are showing growth. Our product is a good product and we continue to see that in the marketplace. We’re very fortunate.”

Schuster said that due to the impact of higher fuel prices, the track was short about 400 shippers, horses upon which Indiana Downs heavily relies. Fewer horses, coupled with the loss of exotic wagers and adverse weather that forced management to take races off the turf course, didn’t help either.

Though the average daily handle may have declined, the average wagered per race increased a tenth of 1% overall despite fewer races offered. Off-track wagering per race increased almost a 1.5%, and Schuster credited increased exposure in California and the ability to export the signal to Connecticut satellite facilities as a plus. The track managed to set a new handle record on the penultimate program of the meet when $1.75 million was wagered on the 11-race card Monday, July 7.

On-track handle plummeted nearly 18% during the meet, but management anticipated the decline. With construction of a 233,000-square-foot permanent casino and entertainment complex, Schuster said live handle was impacted. On the flip side, however, overall attendance, group sales, and food and beverage sales were up significantly.

“We set group sales records five of the first six months this year,” Schuster said. “We feel very strongly that we’re getting new people out, and they’re coming back three or four times. It has led to an elevated racing program, and we’re just thrilled to death.”

Next season promises to be even more fruitful for the track and participating horsemen. Indiana Downs should offer considerably higher purses fueled by revenue generated by its Indiana Live! casino. A temporary facility opened in early June, with the permanent facility slated for an early 2009 completion date. Slot machines stand to turn Indiana Downs a destination for Midwest horsemen.

“Hopefully the enhanced purses will move us up even further,” Schuster said.

Orlando Mojica picked up the riding title by booting home 63 winners during the meet. Mojica made 300 starts and earned $602,827 in purses. Victor Lebron was a close second in the standings with 60 wins.

Gary Patrick took home the training title. Patrick, who has also collected leading trainer honors at Hoosier Park in Indiana, sent out 26 winners in 165 starts and tallied $200,661 in earnings during the meet. Tracy Wisner and Kim Hammond finished just behind Patrick with 22 wins each.