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Report: Betting on Fla. horse and dog races continues to decline


Published:   |   Updated: August 28, 2014 at 06:42 PM

Florida’s horse- and dog-racing tracks have seen another year of overall declines in their core business, according to figures released Thursday by the state’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

The combined “handle” for fiscal year 2013-14, which ended June 30, dropped to $850.1 million from $872.3 million the previous year – a 2.5 percent decrease. Those amounts include the state’s jai ajai frontons.

Handle is defined as the total amount wagered at a track in a season of horse or dog racing.

The latest total is down from a $1.1 billion statewide handle just five years ago. At the same time, $850 million is nothing to shrug at.

As horse and dog racing has lost its appeal to gamblers, tracks have been allowed to open more profitable poker rooms.

Indeed, the division’s report also shows gross receipts from cardrooms went up – from $132.7 million in 2012-13 to $136.2 million in 2013-14, a boost of 2.6 percent.

The report notes that the state’s 40 tracks and frontons report their own numbers, which are “subject to change upon division audit/review.”

In the Tampa Bay region, the news was mixed.

The yearly handle for Tampa Bay Downs, located in Tampa and the only thoroughbred race horse track on the west coast of Florida, shot up more than 24 percent, from $96.4 million to $119.9 million.

Its cardroom gross receipts showed a small bump, $4.4 million to $4.5 million.

Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, which bills itself as “the world’s oldest continuously operating greyhound race track,” showed a year-over-year decline in handle of 8.6 percent, from $26.2 million to $23.9 million, according to the report.

Cardroom receipts were flat at $8.7 million.

The Naples-Ft. Myers Greyhound Track had a drop in handle from $19.8 million to $17.7 million, though its cardroom receipts increased from $6.6 million to just under $7 million.

Carey M. Theil, executive director of GREY2K USA Worldwide, a greyhound protection group, said the most recent numbers show dog racing in particular to be “a dying industry.”

“In only five years, gambling at Florida greyhound tracks has dropped by more than 26 percent,” Theil said. “That is a catastrophic decline, and evidence that the dog racing industry is not viable.

“In light of this, the state dog-racing mandate has effectively become a public subsidy for an activity that is no longer viable,” he added.

Note: We’ve reached out to the tracks and will add comment as we get it.

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