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Meadows rebounds with bettor year

29 percent increase in wagering lifts outlook, but track still for sale
by: JIM CLARK, Off-track betting in New York City, Chicago, Arizona and Seattle has boosted handle at Portland Meadows. On-site betting has increased, too, as the racetrack’s season enters its final stretch.

More lucrative purses, more horses and more bettors have led to brighter days at Portland Meadows horse racetrack.

Wagering on races at the North Portland track has increased by nearly 29 percent over last season, as Portland Meadows gets set to close out its meet schedule with its biggest races next week.

'There are a lot more people following and betting our races,' says Will Alempijevic, director of wagering and guest services. 'And people feel comfortable betting our races. It means racing is viable here.'

But the track still is for sale by owner Magna Entertainment Inc. because Meadows has operated in the red for the past five years. An attempt to add 'Instant Racing' machines has been blocked by the state Department of Justice, although an administrative law judge ruled recently that the track should be allowed to provide the game.

'That's not a binding decision,' says Alempijevic, who has been in charge at Meadows since the end of 2007 when General Manager Dwayne Yuzik was moved to Laurel Park in Maryland. 'But we're hopeful that we can get Instant Racing. It's imperative.'

Magna has done $3 million in renovations, mostly to a room set up for the estimated 200 Instant Racing machines. The game involves betting on races that already have been run - about 100,000 would be in the system. The state calls it a 'gray game,' a game of chance like a slot machine.

The track enjoys little revenue from wagering, but bettors certainly have put their money on Portland Meadows races on-site and through Oregon off-track betting and national simulcasting.

Through 57 events, there has been $28,775,120 wagered, an average of $504,827 per race day, or 28.74 percent more handle than last season through the same number of days.

New York City, Chicago, Arizona and Seattle bettors have been the busiest with Meadows horses. Bettors are lured to Meadows because the track's Sunday-Monday-Tuesday schedule; increased betting also comes from being in new markets.

'In recent memory, it's a record,' Alempijevic says. 'We're extremely proud of the numbers.

'What gets lost is that local horse players can now play with confidence,' he adds, because of better purses.

On-site betting has gone up 3.51 percent, to $28,048 per live event. Portland Meadows operators want to see more people attend live races, because only $1,598,709 of the $22,852,954 wagered statewide came from on-site players.

'While our racing is good, it hasn't helped our bottom line,' Alempijevic says. 'It's a great step forward, but we need to bring people here for live racing.' He hopes that Portland Meadows will be able to add Instant Racing next season to lure people.

Portland Meadows will finish with 61 live races, down from 75, which allows for more money for purses. The number of starting horse entries has risen as horsemen eye the bigger prizes.

The Portland Meadows Mile will be run Monday with a $30,000 added purse. The Oregon Derby and Oregon Oaks will be run Tuesday. Each day will feature 11 races, and the two days will include a $20,000 Guaranteed Pick 5 pool.

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