Sunday, July 01, 2001

Track attendance down? Bet on it




        LOUISVILLE — Attendance for Churchill Downs' spring meet is off 3.2 percent from a year ago and on-track wagering is even lower, continuing a downward trend since a riverboat opened in southern Indiana.

        John Asher, the track's vice president of racing communications, said attendance goes down 2 percent to 4 percent each meet.

        Churchill's spring meet ends July 8. So far, on-track wagering is down 6.5 percent from last year at this time, but Churchill's racing signal is more popular than ever with bettors watching the Louisville races on television screens across the country.

        Bettors continue to put down more money on Churchill's races at off-track betting facilities, at other racetracks and through home-betting systems like Television Games Network. Wagering from all sources increased 4.6 percent to $445 million for the first 44 days of the spring meet. That's six times the amount bet live at the Louisville track.

        Churchill's experience with declining attendance isn't unique. Attendance fell this spring at almost every racetrack that had live racing, said Chris Scherf, executive vice president of Thoroughbred Racing Communications, a racetrack organization.

        Shortly after the Kentucky Derby this year, Churchill Downs announced it would close its grandstand seating area on weekdays because of low attendance.

        Adam Steinberg, director of research at CIBC World Markets in New York, who watches Churchill Downs Inc. stock and that of its rival, Magna Entertainment, said he's not surprised by the attendance figures.

        The bigger question, he said, is whether aging baby boomers will get interested in racing as they reach the age of the typical fan.

       



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