02/08/2014 5:00PM

Thoroughbred Owners of California: Statewide handle up 14 percent in January


ARCADIA, Calif. - Wagering at California tracks rose 14 percent in January, bucking a national trend, according to discussions at an open forum conducted at Santa Anita by the Thoroughbred Owners of California on Saturday.

“With the country being down on handle, a lot of that has to do with weather on the East Coast, wagering on California was up 14 percent and purse generation was up 12 percent,” said TOC president Joe Morris. “We’ve been consistently outperforming this year. That’s good news for us out here.”

California had a dry January, with hardly any rainfall, leaving the state in a drought. That led to little disruption to racing. Across the country, many tracks were affected by snow and cold weather. Nationwide, wagering was down .23 of a percentage point in January, from $802.3 million to $800 million, according to figures released last week by Equibase.

The California handle figures mentioned by Morris were part of a wide variety of issues discussed before a small group of owners at the 35-minute hearing.

In his speech, Morris said that wagering on races in California rose 5.6 percent in 2013 and that purses generated increase 2.3 percent.

In the second half of 2013, Del Mar and Hollywood Park underpaid purses. Del Mar had approximately $685,000 remaining in its purse account, an amount that will be dedicated to purses for the 2014 meeting. Hollywood Park will make a retroactive purse payment of “$500,000 to $600,000” from its autumn meeting, Morris said. Hollywood Park closed permanently as a live racing venue after that meeting.

According to Morris, the horse population in Southern California is currently 2,595 horses at four venues - 1,700 at Santa Anita, 460 at Los Alamitos, 250 at San Luis Rey Downs and 185 at Barretts Sales and Racing at the Los Angeles County Fair. Morris said there is “plenty of room” for 2-year-olds, which are expected to begin arriving in coming weeks. Los Alamitos is expected to expand its stable capacity for Thoroughbreds by additional 200 by the end of March, he said.

With Hollywood Park closing as a training venue in late January, Los Alamitos, San Luis Rey Downs, and Barretts have taken on added roles for auxiliary stabling.

Morris said the TOC is conducting negotiations with account wagering providers to reconfigure distribution of revenue for wagers made ontrack through account wagering platforms via tablets, phones, or laptops.

Owners receive a lower portion of revenue for purses from bets not made at a betting window, and want to renegotiate terms to make such bets equal to those made ontrack.

“Hopefully, we can capture those wagers and that will help our purses,” he said.

The TOC has supported the expansion of mini-satellites in locations such as restaurants, sports bars, card clubs and bowling alleys throughout the state. Morris said that “four to five” new locations could open in 2014.