01/15/2008 1:00AM

U.S. wagering drops again


Total wagering on U.S. races declined in 2007 for the third time in four years, even as purses climbed 5.5 percent, according to figures released by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Equibase on Tuesday.

Wagering declined 0.37 percent to $14,727,170,158, from $14,782,093,648 in 2006. Although handle rose in 2006 compared with the prior year, total wagering on U.S. races also declined in 2005 and 2004, and has declined 7.5 percent since the highwater mark of $15.9 billion in 2003.

Adjusted for inflation, the decline in wagering from 2003 to 2006 has been 15 percent, according to consumer price index information. The consumer price index for 2007 has not yet been calculated.

Total purses distributed at U.S. racetracks rose 5.5 percent to $1,177,782,612 in 2007. Purses have been increasing steadily over the past several years because of subsidies from slot-machine operations at a larger number of racetracks, which have offset the loss of purse revenues from the decline in wagering and allowed purses to keep up with inflation. Still, purses also reached their highwater mark in 2003, at $1.22 billion, prior to the beginning of the declines in wagering.

Race days held in 2007 were down 0.82 percent, from 6,219 in 2006 to 6,168 in 2007.

In the fourth quarter, wagering declined 0.99 percent, from $3,347,649,190 in 2006 to $3,314809,207 in 2007.