06/09/2008 11:00PM

Pimlico handle has sharp drop

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All-sources wagering on races at the Pimlico Race Course meet that ended Sunday plummeted 17.9 percent compared with last year, according to figures provided by Pimlico on Tuesday.

Average daily all-sources wagering on the track's races for the 31-day meet was $4,380,645, compared with $5,338,710 during the 31-day meet last year. Total wagering fell from $165.5 million to $135.8 million.

The decline follows a 20 percent drop in all-sources wagering during the 59-day winter meet at Pimlico's sister track, Laurel Park. Both are owned by Magna Entertainment Corp., which is struggling to retire a massive debt load and has lost hundreds of millions of dollars over the past five years.

During Pimlico's spring meet, handle on the Preakness Stakes card fell 15.7 percent from 2007, and handle on the Preakness itself fell 19.9 percent. The $16 million decline in wagering on the card accounted for just over half the decline for the entire meet.

Maryland voters will be asked later this year to approve slot machines at four locations in the state, one of them most likely Laurel, and Magna has been lobbying heavily in support of the referendum.