02/22/2011 2:16PM

All-sources handle down 7.9% at Santa Anita


ARCADIA, Calif. – Average daily attendance has increased, but handle has fallen, in some categories significantly, at the current Santa Anita winter-spring meeting that reached the halfway point Monday.

According to track president George Haines, average daily ontrack attendance has improved 7 percent this year, while average daily handle figures are down 1.2 percent ontrack, 7.3 percent through the Southern California offtrack wagering network, and 9.7 percent from out-of-state sources. Combining all figures, the average all-sources handle is down 7.9 percent, he said.

The meeting began Dec. 26 and continues through April 17.

Haines cautioned that direct comparisons to the 2009-10 meeting are difficult because the track is running four-day weeks for most of the meeting this year, compared to five days a week through all of last year’s meeting. In addition, five days of racing were lost in the first half of the 2009-10 meeting because the synthetic track in place at the time failed to sufficiently drain. Last fall, Santa Anita installed a conventional sand-and-clay track. The 2009-10 meeting had 34 racing days through Presidents Day, compared to 37 for the same time period this year.

“We’ve had some great days with attendance and people wanting to be here at Santa Anita,” he said.

Haines described the handle figures as a “big concern for us.”

The second half of the meeting typically features drier weather, which Haines hopes will help erase some of the deficit in average handle.

“I think our racing will continue to get better,” he said. “I hope to eat into that.”

At the same time, he acknowledged that a higher takeout on exotic wagers that went into effect Jan. 1 has turned some bettors away from California. How much impact a boycott is having is unclear, he said.

“We don’t know how to quantify or what the effect is,” he said.

The additional revenue is legislatively mandated for overnight purses. The drop in handle will not lead to a purse cut, Haines said, particularly since the ontrack handle, of which the track retains a larger share, is not down significantly.

“Right now, we’re close on purses,” he said of the state of the purse account.

Three other elements have negatively affected - the absence of New York City offtrack betting, and  a decline in field sizes and pick-six carryovers.

The New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation went out of business before the start of the current meeting, making it more difficult for bettors in that region to place wagers. Through Monday, fields have averaged 7.75 starters per race, compared to 7.99 at the similar point in the 2009-10 meeting. Larger fields offer bettors more options and yield higher handle. Through Monday, there have been only four pick-six carryovers, compared to nine through Presidents Day of the 2009-10 meeting.

“We’re due for a run on carryovers,” Haines said. “Hopefully, the field size will increase as we go on.”