01/16/2007 1:00AM

Handle, purses rise in 2006

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Total handle and total purses in U.S. racing both rose in 2006 compared with 2005, reversing an annual trend that had seen declines in betting totals, according to figures distributed by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Equibase on Tuesday.

Total handle for 2006, including separate-pool and foreign betting on U.S races, rose 1.5 percent, to $14,780,450,552, compared with $14,561,295,128 in 2005. A release from the NTRA and Equibase attributed part of the handle increases to strong betting totals in the fourth quarter, when wagering on U.S. races rose 2.69 percent compared with the fourth quarter of 2005.

Total purses, buoyed by revenues from the addition of slot machines at racetracks in New Mexico and New York, rose 3.3 percent to $1,116,423,912 in 2006, from $1,080,800,587 in 2005.

Both figures rose despite a 0.9 percent decline in racing days in 2006, from 6,274 in 2005 to 6,219 in 2006, or 55 fewer racing days.

In 2005, total handle declined 3.5 percent from 2004. In 2004, handle fell to $15.1 billion from the all-time high of $15.9 billion in 2003. Purses also reached an all-time high of $1.22 billion in 2003.