01/05/2011 1:28PM

Betting on U.S. races declines for third straight year in 2010

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Chuck Saus/Mountaineer Race Track

Total wagering, purses, and race days all fell significantly in 2010 compared to 2009, according to figures released on Wednesday by the Jockey Club, with betting on U.S. races declining to its lowest level since 1995.

The declines underscored the fragile state of racing as the sport continues to struggle with declines in market share and the aftereffects from both the recession and a spectacular bust in the bloodstock market. Wagering and purses have dropped precipitously for the past three years, despite ever-increasing amounts of subsidies from other types of gambling, while race days have only recently begun to contract significantly due to the pressures facing the sport.

According to the figures, wagering on U.S. races in 2010 was $11,416,570,932, a 7.3 percent decline from the 2009 number. Betting in 2009 was down 9.8 percent from the 2008 figure, which was down 7.3 percent from the 2007 figure.

Wagering on U.S. races reached a highwater mark in 2003 at $15.2 billion, but the gains of the preceding decade have now been almost entirely wiped out. Since 2003, betting is down 25 percent.

Betting on races remains the principal revenue source for purses, but subsidies from other types of gambling have enabled the racing industry to maintain relatively stable levels of purse distribution throughout the past decade. However, the decline in race days and the steep drops in wagering have begun to chip away at that stability.

Total purse distribution in 2010 was $1,027,731,620, a drop of 6.1 percent from the 2009 number, according to the figures. The drop was tied to a 7.75 percent decline in race days in 2010 compared to 2009, from 5,933 to 5,473. Race days will likely continue to fall in 2011 because of recent declines in the foal crop and decisions by tracks to cut live racing programs in an attempt to maximize field size. According to a study conducted by the Thoroughbred Racing Association, subsidies from other types of gambling provided $318 million to purses distributed at U.S. racetracks in 2009, 34 percent of the total that year. The percentage is expected to rise again in 2010 and 2011, especially after a casino opens at Aqueduct racetrack in New York.

Wagering in December fell 9.3 percent compared to the same month in 2009, in part because of the closing of New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation. The bankrupt company shut all of its parlors and account-wagering operation in early December after failing to get relief from the New York state legislature.

Purses in December were down 3.74 percent, while race days were down 5.42 percent, from 332 in December of 2009 to 314 in December of 2010.