01/09/2017 2:16PM

Handle up sharply in Maryland in 2016

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Total handle on races at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course in Maryland last year was up 19.7 percent from 2015, while in-state handle for the year jumped 18.4 percent, according to figures released Monday by the owner of the tracks.

Total wagering soared from $466 million in 2015 to $559 million last year, according to the Maryland Jockey Club, which is owned by The Stronach Group. Wagering by in-state residents on Thoroughbred racing, including out-of-state signals, leaped from $119.7 million to $141.8 million.

The increases are in stark contrast to the flat results for the U.S. horse-racing industry as a whole. In 2016, total wagering on U.S. races rose just 0.6 percent.

The jump in betting by in-state residents was especially noteworthy since many states are struggling to hold onto customers in a mature industry beset by competition from casinos and other gambling and entertainment options. The growth has coincided with multimillion-dollar renovations to Laurel Park over the last two years designed to make the suburban track more fan-friendly, as well as the opening of several new OTBs in the state.

“We’re pleased with our progress, but we still believe there’s more room for improvement and more room to grow this incredibly exciting sport,” Sal Sinatra, the general manager of the MJC, said in a release. “We want to continue our capital improvements on the front side and back, and we will continue in our efforts to play host to Maryland’s first Breeders’ Cup.”

The MJC first announced earlier this year that it wants to host the Breeders’ Cup in either 2020 or 2021. Though the MJC’s bid is considered a longshot, the Breeders’ Cup has selected two new tracks to host its two-day event, Keeneland and Del Mar, in the last several years.

Laurel and Pimlico are scheduled to host 162 live racing dates this year, five more than last year. However, Pimlico’s meet has been reduced to 12 days, down from 28 days last year, due to poor handle and attendance at the aging Baltimore track, which hosts the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes.