06/04/2012 12:29PM

U.S. handle dips in May

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Handle on U.S. races during the month of May slipped slightly from betting during the same month last year, according to figures distributed by Equibase on Monday.

Betting dropped 0.34 percent, from $1.163 billion last May to $1.159 billion this year, despite a record amount of betting of $133 million on the May 5 Kentucky Derby and slightly higher totals this year for the Preakness Stakes and its undercard two weeks later.

The slight drop followed a 7 percent decline in wagering for April. For the year, handle, which is the best measure of demand for racing, is up 1.5 percent, according to Equibase. Handle on U.S. races has dropped on an annual basis for five straight years, with the declines accelerating significantly with the onset of the recession in 2008.

Race days were up 2.75 percent, from 509 last May to 523 this May. On average, handle per race day this May was $2.216 million, a 3 percent decline from average handle of $2.285 million in May last year.

Purses, which are heavily subsidized at U.S. tracks by slot machines, rose 7.55 percent in the month compared to last May, from $96 million to $103.3 million, for an average of $197,514 per race day.

For the year, purses are up 7.1 percent to $413 million, compared to $385.7 million through May of 2011. Race days through May of this year were identical to race days through May of last year, at 1,939.