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Despite bumpy economic course, Canterbury Park finishes in the black by a nose

With profits down sharply, the Shakopee company continued to reduce costs and debt to weather the economic storm that threatens the entire gaming industry.

Canterbury Park racetrack crossed the Q3 finish line in the black by a nose.

With reduced attendance and lower wagering dogging the entire gaming industry, the Shakopee track swung to a slight profit of $16,395, compared with a loss of $40,795 a year ago on $12.2 million in revenue, a drop of 8 percent. For the first nine months of the year, the park earned $160,000 in profit, compared with $423,000 a year ago, while its nine-month revenue of $31.7 million was down 15 percent.

While still significantly down in profits for the year, the company continued to reduce costs and debt to weather the economic storm that threatens the entire gaming industry and has hit casino-dependent Las Vegas particularly hard.

“Our business continues to be severely affected by reduced discretionary spending caused by the weak economy, which has had a particularly significant impact on the gaming and entertainment industries,” Randy Sampson, president and CEO, said in the track’s Q3 press release.

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One of the few publicly held racetracks in the country, Canterbury’s operation (NASDAQ:CPHC), which includes a card club, provides a window into the financial pressure the gaming industry faces in the current economic downturn.

So far in 2009, wagering on races totaled $10.5 billion across 100 tracks in the United States. This is down 10 percent, “which is better than most of our brethren in the gaming industry. Still it’s down 10 percent nonetheless,” said Eric Wing, spokesman for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Lexington, Ky.

Less discretionary spending has hammered park attendance, Wing asserts, and tracks are running fewer race days (5,191 vs. 5,298 in 2008 year to date) as a way to hold down costs.

He credits a trifecta of factors with the relatively slower decline in thoroughbred racing revenues than other gaming industry sectors. 2009 has been a year of upsets and “the year of the female” with a long-shot winner in the Kentucky Derby (Mine That Bird) and two female horses running away with important wins. Zenyatta was the first female to win the $5 million purse at the Breeders’ Cup, and Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks, the filly version of the Derby, then went on to upset the surprise Derby winner at the Preakness.

The upsets and the entrance of the female winners have added “excitement and electricity,” Wing said, bringing fans to the tracks. Now the two ladies, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, are squared off for “Horse of the Year honors, an unprecedented matchup, Wing said, giving fans and the racing news media soemething new to talk about.