05/04/2012 11:30AM

April betting in U.S. drops, ending streak of monthly gains

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Wagering and race days during the month of April at U.S. tracks declined significantly compared to the same month last year, according to figures released on Friday by Equibase, ending a brief string of encouraging figures in a sport that has been wracked by declines over the past three years.

Handle on U.S. races declined 7 percent during the month, from $927.1 million in April of last year compared to $862 million in April this year. The decline was nearly matched by a 6.5 percent drop in race days, from 401 last year to 375 this year.

Purses, according to the figures, were nearly identical in both months, at $84.9 million in both years.

In three of the last four months, monthly handle figures have risen, in some cases at double-digit rates. The growth was welcome news to the racing industry, which has weathered a 25 percent decline in handle over the past three years.

Because the decline in handle in April was nearly identical to the drop in race days, average handle per race day for both months was relatively stable. In April of last year, handle per race day was $2.31 million, compared to average handle per race day of $2.29 million in April of this year.

For 2012, handle is up 2.1 percent compared to handle through the first four months of 2011, according to Equibase. Purses, which are heavily subsidized by casino operations, are up 7 percent, while race days are down 1 percent.