09/27/2009 11:00PM

Overall wagering dips 6.9% at Emerald

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Wagering, attendance, and purses declined at Emerald Downs in 2009, track president Ron Crockett said after putting the 91-day meeting to bed Sunday, but there was a sliver of positive news: All-source wagering on Emerald races increased 1.8 percent to an average of $884,628 per day, due largely to increased interest from out-of-state bettors.

The other important indicators continued downward trends exacerbated by the faltering economy. Ontrack handle on Emerald's races was off 11 percent, and overall wagering - which includes imported simulcasts - declined 6.9 percent to $1,276,868 per day. While Emerald does not release turnstile counts, Crockett said attendance declined 2.4 percent. Further, those who ventured to the suburban Seattle track wagered less than the previous year, with per-capita betting declining more than 10 percent to $143.10.

"The fact that Emerald all-source wagering held its own is very promising, and one would expect that with the economy being what it is, that attendance would off more than 2.4 percent," Crockett said. "The total handle, down about 7 percent, isn't desirable, but in the situation we have . . . if you look at these numbers, we did better than the economic times would indicate."

With wagering revenues in decline, purses took a corresponding hit - the daily average distribution of $95,200 was down 11 percent from the previous season, Crockett said.

While Emerald will lose money in 2009, Crockett said operational belt-tightening has helped limit the damage. He said negative cash flow would decline from $1.073 million in 2008 to about $500,000 this year. As for the near future, he dismissed the notion that Washington racing is in imminent peril.

"There are some things we'll do differently next year, but I'm always optimistic about our future," he said. "We made a commitment to maintain live racing in Washington, and we will do so, absolutely."

On the track, the Grade 3, $300,000 Longacres Mile was the showcase event, and Mile winner Assessment was named horse of the meeting. Tim McCanna (63 wins) captured his ninth Emerald Downs training title, and Ricky Frazier (155 wins) easily won the riding title. The 815 races yielded an average field size of 7.43 starters, a 3.4 percent decline from 2008.

"I think the horsemen did a good job filling races," Crockett said. "Eight starters is the magic number for people who bet the exotics. It's no nirvana by any means, but you strive for that, and that's what we need to get to."