Purses Increase Again, But Handle Takes a Dip

A third-quarter increase in purses despite a decrease in pari-mutuel handle is attributed to growth in alternative gaming, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association said.

The NTRA and Equibase released their "Thoroughbred Racing Economic Indicators" Oct. 20. The figures are derived from handle in the United States and Canada.

Purses also grew in the second quarter of 2004. Earlier, a handle-up-purses-down situation led the NTRA to form its Wagering Systems Task Force, which in September released a report with suggestions on ways to improve the economics of pari-mutuel wagering.

Purses for the third quarter--$315,684,202--were up 2.9% compared with the same period in 2003, when they totaled $306,800,417. Handle, however, came in at $3,920,328,833, down 2.13% from the 2003 figure of $4,005,677,889. The number of racing days--individual racing programs--increased 2.31%, from 1,950 to 1,995.

"With last year's figures for August up a record 5.51%--a spike in part attributable to the release of the motion picture Seabiscuit--the decline in handle is not unexpected," NTRA commissioner D.G. Van Clief Jr. said in a prepared statement. "At the same time, a second consecutive quarter of growth in purses is encouraging, and we believe it is a result of the continued growth of alternative gaming at racetracks."

Some of the tracks with slot machines or video lottery terminals that raced in the third quarter are Charles Town Races & Slots, Delaware Park, Finger Lakes Gaming & Racing, Louisiana Downs, and Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort. Finger Lakes is new on the scene, having opened its video gaming parlor earlier this year.

In addition, Philadelphia Park increased purses in September in advance of slot machines, which were legalized in Pennsylvania in July. Purses there are expected to continue to rise even before the first machines are activated.