12/03/2008 12:00AM

November handle off nearly 10 percent


Wagering on U.S. races in November of this year plunged 9.7 percent compared to the same month last year even though race days were up 5.7 percent, according to figures provided by Equibase on Wednesday.

The decline was the worst month-to-month showing for the figures since Equibase began releasing the numbers on a 30-day basis in August. Overall, according to Equibase, wagering has declined 6.2 percent this year, and is on pace to decline for the fourth time in the last five years.

In November, wagering was $968,996,146, compared to $1,073,123,772 in November last year. Making the figures worse is that this year's November had five weekends in it, whereas last November had four weekends in it.

Purses declined by 2.4 percent, from $85,500,574 in November last year to $83,491,704 this year. Purses have not tracked the declines in wagering because of subsidies from slot machines at many U.S. tracks.

Race days during the month of November, in part because of the extra weekend, were up from 440 last year to 465 this year, according to Equibase.

The declines are also being felt in the one area of the parimutuel market that has shown sustained growth over the past five years: account wagering. Two of the four largest account-wagering companies, TVG and Youbet.com, suffered declines in overall handle in the third quarter of this year compared to the third quarter of last year, according to public documents. A third, Churchill Downs Inc. - which operates Twinspires.com - has yet to exceed the handle figures posted by the account-wagering companies it bought last year.

TVG's handle in the third quarter declined 6.2 percent in the third quarter, from $151.4 million last year to $142 million this year. Youbet's handle in the same period declined 8.7 percent, from $133.3 million to $121.7 million.

The declines were partially made up at XpressBet, owned by Magna Entertainment Corp., and Twinspires.com, two companies that are aggressively marketing the rights to the signals they control through a partnership.

Handle at XpressBet in the third quarter was up 38.2 percent, from $31.9 million last year to $44.1 million this year. Handle at Twinspires.com was up 42 percent, from $39.5 million last year to $56.1 million this year.

However, handle through the three sites operated by AmericaTab - which Churchill Downs bought and folded into its operations last year - was more than $60 million in both the first and second quarters of 2007, before Churchill consolidated the operations with its own. At that time, the menu of tracks at offered by all four account-wagering companies saw significant changes, resulting in a large loss of handle at the AmericaTab sites.