Record amount wagered at Charles Town in 2015

The race horse Moreno races at Charles Town Races in West Virginia. Moreno won the 2015 Charles Town Classic. Courtesy Charles Town Races
Charitable Annuity won the 2015 West Virginia Breeders' Classic in Charles Town, West Virginia. Courtesy photo
Hot City Girl won the 2015 Charles Town Oaks in Charles Town, West Virginia. Courtesy photo

CHARLES TOWN, West Virginia – Though some Jefferson County horsemen and breeders have expressed concern about the future of live thoroughbred racing at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, casino officials said 2015 marked the highest wagers per race in the racetrack’s 83 years of operation.

According to Erich Zimny, vice president of racing operations with Penn National Gaming Inc., 1,447 races were held at the racetrack in Charles Town, and the races produced a new annual record with $111,664 bet per race. Zimny said the figure shows an increase of 6.82 percent over 2014 and beat the previous record of $110,247 handle per race set in 2012.

The 2015 live racing season ended Dec. 23, and the all-sources handle for that night was $1,783,223, the second largest December all-sources total in the racetrack’s history.

“I’m once again incredibly proud of the job our entire team here did in bringing us to the point of being able to set a record for wagering volume per race,” Zimny said. “Setting a mark like that for a track that’s been around more than 80 years is significant and a testament to all of their hard work and focus. We look forward to the challenge of trying to build on 2015.”

However, Randy Funkhouser, president of the Charles Town Horsemen Benevolent Protection Agency, said while wagers may have gone up, purses have decreased greatly in the last decade. In the early to mid-2000s, he said, purses were between $35 and $40 million, but have since decreased due to competition. In 2014, purses were around $21 million, and he said horsemen are expecting that figure to be closer to $19 million in 2016.

Each dollar in purses paid in 2015 produced $5.89 in pari-mutuel handle. Since 2009, pari-mutuel handle per dollar in purses paid has increased by 40 percent and the handle per race has increased by 32 percent. The 2009 handle per race was $84,373.

Funkhouser said $8.30 of every $100 wagered on live racing goes to the racetrack and horsemen, while the rest of the money goes to the state and the county.

In simulcast racing, Funkhouser said, three percent is taken out of the wager and divided evenly. One percent of the money goes to cover the cost of transmission equipment and expenses, one percent goes to the racetrack and one percent goes to the horsemen.

“Lots of people are betting on the simulcast, because they can watch the races from anywhere in the world, so you do get money you wouldn’t normally get,” he said. “I think Erich Zimny is making a good simulcast effort, but I wish the racetrack would do more advertising to get people out to the live races.”

In addition to an increase in handle per race in 2015, Zimny said the year also brought some of the biggest names in live thoroughbred racing to Charles Town.

When the Charles Town racetrack hosted its seventh Charles Town Classic, the $1.5 million purse made the race the richest thoroughbred race in the country outside of the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup, he said. The large purse lured Shared Belief, a horse that topped the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, trained and ridden by hall-of-fame team Jerry Hollendorfer and Mike Smith.

Funkhouser acknowledged that large races and well-known names coming to Charles Town are “a positive sign” for the racing industry, but said the next step will be for the horsemen to work cooperatively with Penn National Gaming to promote live racing in Charles Town.

“There’s been talk about doing a big, signature race, and we’ve asked the track to get behind the horsemen and push to get rid of the appropriation in the Haircut Bill, because it would mean more money for everyone,” he said. “We’re together on this.”

Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-725-6581, mstortstrom@journal-news.net or www.twitter.com/mstortstromJN.

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