Sharply increased wagering on Maryland’s live racing product in 2012 enabled the Maryland Jockey Club post a small gain for the year even as wagering on out-of-state signals declined, according to figures from the MJC.
The company reported that total 2012 wagering increased by slightly less than one percent versus 2011, stemming years of decline. Bolstered by slots-enhanced purses and buoyed by an exceptionally strong Preakness, the company’s overall numbers, particularly the performance on the local product in the simulcast market, gave horsemen hope that the state’s racing industry has begun the process of revitalization.
Live and export handle — the amount wagered on Maryland racing either at the track (live) or at other venues (export), whether at off-track facilities or via advanced deposit wagering accounts — posted strong gains in 2012. Average live wagering grew nearly six percent, to almost $187,000 daily. Export handle posted nearly a 17 percent jump in 2012. Off-track bettors pumped over $286 million into Maryland races, an average of nearly $2 million each day. That compared very favorably to the 2011 figure of less than $1.7 million daily and meant that Maryland’s live product generated nearly 16 percent more wagering in 2012, on average, than it had in 2011.
Track president Tom Chuckas attributed the increase to three factors: “increased purses, as we are running for $250,00 per day, which is up $90,000, improved field sizes, and more aggressive marketing.”
Once slots revenue began to make a real difference in purses, field size increased commensurately. From the beginning of the Pimilco spring meet, field size is up more than five percent (roughly 8.2 horses per race, compared to 7.8 for the similar period in 2011).
Not all of the year-end news was positive, however. Import handle — the amount handled by the MJC on races run at out-of-state tracks — declined by 23 percent, falling over $40 million to $136.1 million. That decrease nearly matched the increased revenue on the live product. And attendance continued to struggle; though Pimlico’s attendance, driven by a record crowd of over !21,000 at the Preakness, rose slightly, attendance at Laurel fell 23 percent, to about 420,000.
Still, with purses projected to continue growing, a long-term agreement complete, and Rosecroft, the state’s largest off-track betting facility once again able to accept Thoroughbred wagers — as well as MJC facilities again able to accept harness wagers — there is reason for optimism.