06/03/2010 11:00PM

Betting continues to drop

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Handle on U.S. Thoroughbred races in May dropped by 8.3 percent compared to the same month last year, according to figures released on Friday by Equibase, a decline that indicates racing is continuing to struggle even as the economy shows indications of regaining some strength.

The decline, from $1.38 billion in May of last year to $1.26 billion this year, or $120 million, was influenced somewhat by the running this year of the Kentucky Oaks on April 30, compared to a May date last year. Handle on the Oaks card this year was $36 million, well above a typical Friday handle.

In addition, race days during May dropped by 5.9 percent, from 598 in May of last year to 563 this year, in part because of fewer race days at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. Although some racing officials have hoped that bettors would continue to wager the same amount of money even as races declined, the larger drop in handle compared to the decline in race days indicates that bettors, in total, are wagering even less as the number of betting opportunities drops.

After a relatively good showing in April, when handle dropped 2.5 percent, racing officials were hopeful that racing was beginning to turn a corner as the economy began to pick up strength.

Purses, which are highly subsidized by slot machines, dropped 4.8 percent in May this year compared to last year, from $105.3 million to $100.2 million, according to the figures. Last week, a report by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, a racetrack trade group, showed that subsidies from slot machines and state governments provided 29 percent of all purses distributed at U.S. racetracks in 2009.

For the year, handle has declined 8.4 percent, from $5.51 billion to $5.05 billion, or $460 million. Purses are down 6.7 percent, from $403 million last year to $377 million this year. Race days have declined 6.8 percent, from 2,194 last year to 2,044 this year.

In 2009, handle dropped 9.9 percent to its lowest level since 1996, unadjusted for inflation.