Charles Town notes pari-mutuel growth, contribution to purses

Posted: Dec. 28, 2017

Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races reported a 19% spike in all-sources handle on its live product in 2017 despite six fewer races compared with 2016—as well as growth in the percentage of purse money generated from pari-mutuel sources versus casino gaming.

According to figures released by the West Virginia track Dec. 28, 1,369 races at Charles Town generated $190.04 million last year, up from $159.77 million for 1,375 races in 2016. Handle per race of $138,821 in 2017 was up 19.4% from the previous year and is 60.5% higher than it was in 2009.

Charles Town for the most part in 2017 offered eight-race programs.

Wagering for each dollar paid in purse money was a record $7.83 last year versus $6.51 in 2016. The metric is up 33.9% since 2015 and 86.4% since 2009.

The growth in pari-mutuel revenue is encouraging given the track’s reliance on revenue from video lottery terminals and table games to support purses. Gaming revenue to purses in West Virginia has declined substantially over the past 10 years given legislative reductions and competition from casinos in neighboring states.

“Enough can’t be said about the operational execution and performance of the racing team here at Charles Town not only in 2017 but over the course of the last several years,” Charles Town Vice President of Racing Erich Zimny said in a release. “Through pari-mutuel performance, there have been millions of incremental dollars generated that have saved a significant number of live racing days and purses from being slashed any further.

“The formula we’ve developed has worked very, very well and while we’ve set the bar high, we look forward to the challenge of keeping the momentum going in 2018.”

Based on Charles Town statistics, handle per race increased from 2009 to 2012, was steady in 2013, and then dropped in 2014. Since that time it has grown each year.

The 2018 season at Charles Town is scheduled to begin Jan. 10 with four racing programs a week through April 21. The remainder of the schedule hasn’t been released because the West Virginia Racing Commission has not yet signed off on the track’s plan to race 162 days rather than the statutory minimum of 220.

The Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association has supported similar reductions in recent years to maintain competitive purse levels.

Zimny noted the 2018 stakes schedule has not yet been approved. The WVRC earlier in December withheld approval given one commissioner’s concerns over the proposed $1.25 million purse for the grade II Charles Town Classic, which is scheduled for April 21.

“The Charles Town Classic and remainder of the track’s stakes schedule—the (launch) coincides with the track’s rise from 2009 through today—remains in limbo, with one call for a 75% cut in the Charles Town Classic purse prior to casting of a vote of acceptance.”

The Charles Town Classic program has produced the nine highest single-card handles in track history. It contributed to record monthly per-race wagering of $162,021 for April 2017. The 2017 West Virginia Breeders’ Classics card set its own record with handle of $2.19 million for nine races.

The leading owner of 2017 by wins at Charles Town was Taylor Mountain Farm with 45. Jeff Runco, who won his 4,000th race Dec. 9, was leading trainer with 152 wins, while Christian Hiraldo led all jockeys with 143 victories.

(Charles Town photo by Tom LaMarra)