Pimlico/Laurel's entry into the age of electronic racing seems to be working.
After the first three weeks that full-card simulcasts from Belmont Park, Churchill Downs and Hollywood Park have been offered in addition to the live card at Pimlico, gross betting receipts at the state's four thoroughbred wagering sites -- Pimlico, Laurel, Rosecroft and the Frederick OTB outlet (Cracked Claw) -- have increased about 17 percent from a year ago.
Included in the figures is the amount bet in the afternoon on the Freehold harness races from Freehold, N.J. Currently the takeout from that approximate $65,000 daily handle goes to the state's harness industry. But Pimlico/Laurel management is renegotiating the deal with the management of Rosecroft-Delmarva raceways.
In 1992, the betting menu at Pimlico/Laurel consisted of only a live Pimlico card plus a few select simulcasts of important stakes. Wagering was confined to Pimlico and the one additional inter-track facility at Laurel.
When the fees and additional costs of taking the races from New York, Kentucky and California tracks are deducted from the gross handle, the net business increase in the last three weeks ranges between five and eight percent, according to track operator Joe De Francis.
"On April 29, the day we first started taking the full-card simulcasts, we showed a 12 percent betting decline on a daily basis [this year]," De Francis said. "Now our net handle is up 5 to 8 percent. Overall we're experiencing a 17 to 20 percent business turnaround. Frankly, it's better than we expected and as far as I'm concerned, the sky's the limit. We have got to work on our presentation -- offer more and better information for our fans from the sending tracks and make our facilities more user friendly."
De Francis said that starting with the Laurel meet, which begins June 10, it might be possible to raise horsemen's purses. "We'll have to look at the current over-or-under-payment figures and try to project what's going to happen in the months ahead," De Francis said. "So far the extra money allocated to the horsemen's purse account reflects the same 5 to 8 percent increase in the net handle."
De Francis said statistics gathered from the first week of the full-card simulcasts is representative of the trend in the track's business.
De Francis said that yesterday was the first normal Saturday since the multiple signal program began where there wasn't a Derby or a Preakness to interrupt the regular business pattern. Betting handles yesterday reflected the general business increase of the past three weeks, De Francis said.
NOTES: D. Guilford, who had been running in claimers on the dirt, regained his former stakes status on the turf yesterday and won the $56,575 Roman Handicap. My Frenchman finished second for the second straight year. He won the race from 1989 to 1991. The speedy Canadian invader, Bold N' Flashy, set the pace, but ended up third. . . . Six potential operators of a racetrack in Virginia, including De Francis, are scheduled to speak today at the annual awards luncheon of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association in Warrenton. . . . Former director of racing Larry Abbundi has resigned his post as handicapper at Pimlico/Laurel. Racing secretary Tommy Baker is now assigning weights in handicap races.