Wagering on Maryland races continued to grow in 2016

Posted: Jan. 9, 2017

Total wagering on races at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course increased 19.9% to $559 million in 2016, according to statistics released Jan. 9 by the Maryland Jockey Club.

For 2015 the MJC reported total pari-mutuel handle of $466 million, which was up 15.3% from $404 million in 2014. Based on 156 racing days in 2016, average daily handle on live races was about $3.58 million, up 14.7% from $3.12 million for 149 programs in 2015.

The Preakness Stakes program at Pimlico alone generated $94.1 million in handle last year, with another $19.4 million bet on the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes program the previous day.

At a Maryland Racing Commission meeting in late fall of 2016, Tim Ritvo, Chief Operating Officer of the The Stronach Group, which owns the MJC tracks, noted handle on Laurel races continues to grow. It was $296 million in 2014, $355 million in 2015, and was expected to reach $425 million last year.

An expansion of off-track betting in Maryland contributed to an 18.4% jump in in-state wagering to $141.8 million last year from $119.7 million in 2015, according to the statistics. The MJC last year opened facilities at the Maryland State Fair at Timonium, an events center and restaurant in Boonsboro in the western part of the state, and Hollywood Casino Perryville in northeastern Maryland.

Other Maryland simulcast outlets are the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore; Riverboat on the Potomac near Colonial Beach, Va.; and Rosecroft Raceway, a Washington, D.C.-area harness track The Stronach Group purchased from Penn National Gaming Inc. in the summer of 2016.

Handle growth was aided by average field size of 8.63 for the year. The number of horses per race was particularly strong at the Laurel fall meet, when the turf course is used extensively: 8.96 in September, 8.79 in October and 9.91 in November.

“We’re pleased with our progress, but we still believe there’s more room for improvement and more room to grow this incredibly exciting sport,” MJC president and general manager Sal Sinatra said. “We want to continue our capital improvements on the front side and back side, and we will continue in our efforts to play host to Maryland’s first Breeders’ Cup.”

MJC officials have indicated they could bid for the 2020 or 2021 Breeders’ Cup World Championships. The last year the event was held on the East Coast was 2007 at first-time host Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

“Our racing program is getting stronger with large, competitive fields and more grass racing on our world-class turf course, and our fans have helped with great suggestions on how to improve their experience at our facilities,” Sinatra said. “We’re going to keep improving our product and facilities with great events, improved dining options and quality racing.”

The MJC has invested about $30 million in capital improvements at Laurel thus far, with much more to come. Renovations and construction thus far have focused on the interior of the clubhouse and part of the first floor of the grandstand, as well as new barn construction.

Maryland tracks were approved for 169 live Thoroughbred programs in 2017, with 150 at Laurel, 12 at Pimlico, and seven at Timonium. Ritvo last year said the goal for the MJC is to reach about 200 racing days per year.

Rosecroft raced 54 programs in 2016 and was approved for 60 this year; the meet will be split from March-May and October-December. Casino Ocean Downs, now owned by Churchill Downs Inc. and Saratoga Casino Holdings, will offer 48 programs during late spring and summer.

(Laurel Park photo by Tom LaMarra)