04/02/2009 11:00PM

U.S. handle still in decline

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Wagering on Thoroughbred races in the United States continued to plummet in March compared with the same month last year, falling 13.9 percent, according to figures released by Equibase on Friday.

Wagering dropped from $1.24 billion in March last year to $1.06 billion in March this year, according to the figures. The declines come on top of an 11.6 percent drop in February and a 1.6 percent drop in January, a month in which the handle figures were buoyed by an 8 percent increase in race days.

Through the first three months of the year, wagering on U.S. races has declined 9.35 percent, according to Equibase, falling from $3.43 billion through the first quarter of last year to $3.10 billion in the first quarter of this year. Racing officials have blamed the overall economic contraction for the declines, and, in fact, many U.S. industries have suffered revenue declines well in excess of the figures posted by the racing industry.

Purses distributed during March fell 6.8 percent, from $85.2 million in March last year to $79.4 million in the March this year. Racing days in March declined 2.1 percent, from 428 last year to 419 this year.

Purses figures are typically more resilient than handle figures because of subsidies provided by slot machines at many racetracks. For the first three months of 2009, purses are down 3.5 percent, from $223.7 million last year to $215.9 million this year.