09/28/2008 11:00PM

Monmouth's overall handle up

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A significant expansion of the Monmouth Park meet this year took a significant toll on ontrack business, but average all-sources handle figures showed a slight uptick even in the face of an inscrutable economy and declines at other summer meets, according to figures released by Monmouth on Monday.

Average all-sources handle on Monmouth races was $3,274,800 for the 100-day meet, up 3.1 percent compared with the average all-sources handle figure of $3,177,122 during last year's 75-day meet. Average attendance, however, plummeted 27 percent, while average daily ontrack handle declined 29 percent, as bettors took advantage of new offtrack betting locations in the state and continued to migrate to account-wagering operations.

Monmouth's overall increase in business stood in contrast to declines at the two most prominent summer meets, Del Mar and Saratoga, where total handle dropped 7 percent and 10.3 percent this year.

Monmouth raced through September this year, and added Friday cards to its May dates, accounting for the 25-day increase in dates. John Heims, a spokesman for the track, said that if the September ontrack figures were taken out of the average figures, then the declines would not have been as substantial.

"If you compare it on a like-by-like basis, take September out of it, it really wouldn't have been that bad," Heims said. "September is a tough time to get people out to the track on the Jersey Shore."

Off-site wagering on the Monmouth races was up an average of 10.5 percent, fueling the all-sources growth this year. In part, the off-site wagering increases were helped by the availability of Monmouth's races on several new account-wagering platforms this year, including the sites run by Twinspires.com and XpressBet, two operations that were shut out last year under a previous contract that restricted the Monmouth signal to Television Games Network and its sub-licensing partners.

In addition, a new offtrack betting parlor opened in New Jersey this year, doubling the number of OTB locations in the state, and Monmouth's owner, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, continues to promote its own account-wagering operation for in-state residents. Combined with rising prices for gas, those developments almost certainly had an effect on on-track business, according to authority officials.

"With the success of our Woodbridge OTB, the opening of another OTB in Toms River, and the continued expansion of our Internet and phone-wagering accounts, all coupled with the cost of travel, it's no surprise that fans are staying close to home, if not at home, and wagering," said Dennis Robinson, the president of the authority.