Fair Grounds, Slots Bump Purses, But Handle Drops

The return of live racing to New Orleans and revenue from slot machines was largely responsible for a 13.69% jump in Thoroughbred purses in the first quarter of 2007, but pari-mutuel handle declined during the three-month period.

According to the “Thoroughbred Racing Economic Indicators” released May 9 by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Equibase, wagering on Thoroughbred races held in the United States totaled $3,541,454,467, down 1.1% from $3,580,730,335 in the first quarter of 2006.

Officials said the decline in handle was in part because of weather-related cancellations during February. The total number of U.S. race days--individual programs at each track--was 1,150 this year compared with 1,154 last year.

Purses, however, increased from $199,641,227 last year to $226,971,062 this year. Officials attributed the gain to purse increases at Fair Grounds, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park, Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack, and Sunland Park.

Fair Grounds raced 57 days in the first quarter of 2007, but last year during the same period, it raced only 12, all at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs. Purses averaged $357,000 a day during the 2006-07 Fair Grounds meet, the highest ever for a meet in New Orleans.

Gulfstream held its first meet this winter with slots and raised purses, while Philly Park, which activated slots in late December, increased purses effective Jan. 1. Sunland Park already had slots.