Woodbine Entertainment Posts Record Handle for 2001

Expanded distribution of Woodbine Entertainment Group's Thoroughbred and harness races and larger fields generated by higher purses helped increase the company's total handle for the year by 11.1%.

The operator of Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto and Mohawk Raceway in Campbellville, Ontario, reported Tuesday a record $1,357,547,000 in wagers on horse racing for 2001 compared with a total handle of $1,221,684,000 in 2000, which was the previous record year.

Significant increases in wagering on its products in markets outside the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) helped generate the record handle. Wagering in the United States on Thoroughbred races increased by more than 50% from last year to $122 million, while wagering on harness races jumped 54% to $152 million. In total, wagering on Woodbine Entertainment product from outside of the GTA exceeded $470 million.

Telephone account wagering contributed substantially to the growth. Account wagering on Woodbine and Mohawk races increased 39.2% to $62,975,020, up from $45,243,160 last year. The growth was attributed to live races being available for the first time through Canada's major cable television services.

Live Woodbine races could be seen in 1.3 million homes across Canada through TRN Canada and the cable systems in 2001, according to Andrew McDonald, Woodbine Entertainment's director of new business initiatives. In 2000, the television exposure was essentially non-existent, McDonald said.

"Horse racing is our core product, and we are delighted by the way it is being accepted in Toronto and in markets across North America," said David Willmot, Woodbine Entertainment's president and chief executive officer.

Woodbine Entertainment operated 422 days of live racing in 2001, of which 165 days were for Thoroughbreds and 257 days for Standardbreds. Average daily wagering from all sources on Woodbine's Thoroughbred racing it was $2,089,000, up 14% from $1,832,000 in 2000. The average daily handle for Woodbine/Mohawk's Standardbred racing was $1,652,000, up 15.4% from $1,430,956 in 2000.

Woodbine has raised the quality of its racing and increased field size by boosting purses with slot machine revenue. Purses have increased 60% over the past two years and even higher purses are expected later this year. Since the government-owned slot machines began operating in December 1998, all racetracks and horsemen's groups have share a total of $400 million in revenue.

David Gorman, Woodbine Entertainment's vice president of corporate affairs, said he didn't know how much slot machine revenues grew last year because the latest figures from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. were not available. He said anecdotally that business was brisk.

"We know is that it was a very, very strong year," he said. "We'll be looking at some purse increases on the Thoroughbred side before we open on March 23."