The Maryland Jockey Club concluded the Laurel Park winter meeting Saturday, posting average wagering figures which were 18.8% lower than the 2013 winter meet. The average daily handle went from $1.85 million to $1.5 million. The 2014 meet included 42 live racing days, eight less than a year ago.
The track experienced across-the-board declines. Live handle fell more than 26 percent, import handle (wagering by bettors at Laurel on racing elsewhere) fell more than 20 percent, and export handle (wagering by players elsewhere on the Laurel live product) fell by nearly one-third.
Average daily handle on Laurel’s live product, including both live and export, fell from more than $1.5 million to over $1.2 million, according to the track’s figures — a drop of nearly 20 percent.
The declines likely stem from several factors. Difficult weather in the mid-Atlantic cost the track several live days, and as a result, it carded eight fewer live days than a year ago — a drop of 16 percent. Moreover, many of the days the track did run were in inclement weather, driving away patrons.
The regional shortage of horses resulted in many tracks, including Laurel, scrambling to fill races. Twice late in the meet, the track filled just eight races, and in some of those, “filled” was a relative term; after scratches, 11 of those 16 races went off with six or fewer horses. Small fields are generally unattractive to bettors, especially simulcast players.
That shortage — and the cutthroat competition for betting dollars — was exacerbated by the ongoing battle over days between Florida’s Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course. That battle led Calder to remain open during the winter months it usually closes, increasing the competition both for horses and for wagering dollars.
Finally, racing nationally continues to struggle. Handle nationally has declined by a third in recent years, and 2014 numbers through February were 2.2 percent behind 2013.