Updated on 09/05/2011 4:25PM

Wagering on U.S. racing declines 12.3 percent during August

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Despite solid handle figures at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York, overall handle on races at U.S. racetracks during the month of August plummeted 12.3 percent compared with the same month last year, according to figures released by Equibase on Sunday.

The declines, from $1.12 billion last August to $982 million this year, far outpaced a 6.6 percent contraction in the number of race days held by U.S. tracks during the month, indicating that overall demand for racing remains in decline. In addition, the 12.3 percent fall was far worse than a 2 percent decline in handle for July, when race days fell at a greater rate, 3.2 percent.

The August handle figures were negatively impacted by Hurricane Irene, which forced closures by a number of Northeast tracks, including Saratoga, on the final Sunday of the month.

Through the end of August, handle figures for the boutique Saratoga meet had been even with last year,  generating optimism that racing may have begun to emerge from a three-year slide in wagering totals. However, betting on races at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club outside of San Diego has been down compared with last year, at around 6 percent.

Purses distributed at U.S. racetracks during the month also slid, declining 7.7 percent, down from $104.6 million in August of 2010 to $96.5 million in August this year. Purses at U.S. racetracks are heavily subsidized by associated slot-machine operations.

For the year, wagering is down 7.7 percent, from $8.13 billion to $7.51 billion, according to the Equibase figures. Purses are down 0.2 percent, from $690.8 million to $689.4 million, while race dates are down 6.3 percent, from 3,838 to 3,596.