01/15/2010 1:00AM

Wet weather cited in steep handle drop


NEW ORLEANS - The betting handle on races at the ongoing Fair Grounds meet continues to decline from last meet. All-sources daily handle dropped 28 percent in December compared to December 2008, coming on the heels of a 31 percent drop in November.

Fair Grounds raced 17 1/2 cards this December, losing 1 1/2 programs to wet weather. In December 2008, the track hosted 17 days of racing. Even with the extra half-program, the total amount wagered from all sources on Fair Grounds races declined from $73,990,002 in December 2008 to $54,578,106 in December 2009, according to figures provided by the Louisiana State Racing Commission. Average daily total handle during the month fell from $4,352,353 last meet to $3,118,748 this season.

Average daily ontrack handle on Fair Grounds races was off 32 percent from December to December, declining from $206,781 in 2008 to $139,984.

Fair Grounds general manager Eric Halstrom cited bad weather - of which there was plenty - as one factor in the decline.

"We had 25 inches of rain in the month, so it was tough going there," Halstrom said. "I think we're hitting our stride the right time of year, and we're very positive about where the season's going to end up."

Halstrom said that Fair Grounds already had moved 58 races from turf to dirt during the meet. During the entire 2008-2009 meeting, only 50 races were taken off grass, according to Halstrom.

Also affecting wagering was a dispute between TrackNet - a partnership of Magna Entertainment and Fair Grounds owner Churchill Downs Inc. that controls the track's simulcast signal - and a group of simulcast sites in seven Mid-Atlantic states. The dispute has resulted in those sites not being able to offer betting on the Fair Grounds races.

Despite the decline in betting, Halstrom said Fair Grounds had no plans to lower purses at the meet.

"We just put out our next [condition] book, and there are no cuts or anything like that," said Halstrom. "We're generally conservative with the way we went about it. We're comfortable with where we're at."