02/04/2009 1:00AM

U.S. wagering down in January


Despite an 8 percent increase in race days, wagering on U.S. races in January fell 1.6 percent compared with the same month in 2008, according to figures released by Equibase on Wednesday.

Wagering on U.S. races was $1,042,526,296 in January this year, compared with $1,059,007,418 in January of last year, according to the figures. Race days were up from 348 in January last year to 376 this year. In addition, January 2009 included five weekends, compared with four weekends in January 2008. Handle peaks on Saturdays and Sundays.

On average, bettors wagered $2,772,676 per race day in January this year, compared with $3,043,125 in January 2008, a difference of 8.8 percent.

Wagering handle has been in a steady decline for most of the last four years. In 2008, wagering on U.S. races declined 7.2 percent compared with 2007, with much of that decline coming in the last six months of the year due to the deteriorating economic conditions worldwide.

Last year in January, Santa Anita Park, which leads the country in average daily handle during January, lost seven days of racing because of problems with its artificial surface. As a result, January handle last year was down significantly compared with the previous year, and this year's figures for the month would have been worse in comparison if Santa Anita had not lost such an unusual number of racing days.

Purses distributed in U.S. races during January increased 3.6 percent, from $68,291,153 in January 2008 to $70,653,646.