04/04/2013 12:20PM

Handle in March even with 2012 level

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Wagering on U.S. races in March was nearly identical to the handle figure for March of last year, while race days fell marginally, down 1.78 percent, according to figures released by Equibase on Thursday.

Handle during March was $983,428,969, according to the figures, just slightly down from handle of $984,552,968 in March of last year (down 0.1 percent). Because there were seven fewer race days in March this year compared with last year, average handle per race day was up 1.7 percent, from $2,498,865 in March of 2012 to $2,541,160 in March this year.

In February, handle fell 6.6 percent, largely because of a 10.8 percent drop in the number of race dates during the month. Racetracks are facing enormous pressure to fill races because of a rapid decline in the foal crop over the past five years, a drop that peaked in 2010 and 2011. Horses from those crops are now 2 and 3 years old.

Purse distribution in U.S. races in March was down 2.4 percent, from $87,986,496 in March of last year to $85,870,784 this year, according to the figures. Purses at U.S. racetracks are heavily subsidized by casinos, and many casinos have posted double-digit declines in wagering this year, largely because many markets are becoming saturated as more and more states legalize the operations.

For the first three months of the year, handle is down 2.8 percent compared with the first quarter of last year, according to Equibase, while race dates are down 6.34 percent. Purses have declined 3 percent.