08/04/2011 1:54PM

Decline in U.S. handle slows in July

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The slide in wagering on horse races held at U.S. racetracks decelerated significantly during the month of July, falling only 2.9 percent compared with wagering in July of last year, according to figures released by Equibase on Thursday.

The slight decline in wagering was accompanied by a 6.7 percent decline in race dates, meaning that handle per racing day actually increased in July compared with the same month last year, a welcome sign for an industry that has been weathering month-to-month betting declines for three years. For July, average handle per race day was $1,699,391, a 4.1 percent increase over average handle per race day of $1,632,793.

In total, betting on U.S. races dropped from $1.029 billion in July of last year to $999 billion this year. For the year, betting on U.S. races has declined 6.96 percent, and is still on pace to post the lowest total since 1995, unadjusted for inflation.

Purses distributed in U.S. races during the month rose 1.11 percent, according to the figures, rising from $109.5 million last year to $110.7 million. Purses at U.S. racetracks are heavily subsidized by slot-machine revenues, and purse numbers this year have also been boosted by dramatic purse increases in California, where revenues raised from an increase in the takeout have been dedicated to purse awards.

Race days during July dipped from 630 last year to 588 this year as racetracks continued to slash dates in an effort to maintain field sizes in excess of eight horses per race. Racetracks have been increasingly cutting live race dates over the past 12 months because of shortages of horses from recent declines in the foal crop.