Thoroughbred racing took a huge financial hit in 2009, falling almost 10 percent, according to the latest economic indicators released Wednesday.
Wagering on U.S. races fell $1.3 billion last year, on top of 2008's $1 billion drop.
That puts wagering in 2009 at $12.3 billion, the lowest level since 1996. In 2008, almost $13.7 billion was bet on U.S. Thoroughbred races, according to Equibase.
Racing "handle," the amount wagered, peaked at $15.2 billion in 2003, but the latest numbers show the losses accelerating drastically.
"A decline of this magnitude for the year is nothing to celebrate, but it does compare favorably to that of many other industries in 2009, especially when combined with an overall decline in the number of race dates," said Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. "Also, the decrease in the rate of decline over the final two quarters may indicate that the worst is behind us. I believe that horse racing will reverse these trends in the years ahead, especially as we develop new ways to capitalize on our unique right to conduct legal, online wagering."
The decline in betting came despite major industry efforts to win back fans after the deaths of Eight Belles and Barbaro tarnished racing's public image.
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