John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to MSNBC.com, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012


A Chance for NYRA to Give Back


HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., February 15, 2012—Much of the recent troubles the New York Racing Association has wrought upon itself are of their own making and not much of it is defensible: One progressive foot forward; two regressive feet back.

The latest problem occurred in December when it was learned that it failed to reduce its takeout on super-exotic wagers from 26% to 25% as was required by statute back in September, 2010.

Consequently, NYRA and its simulcast partners kept one more percent of the money wagered than it was entitled to. The NYRA was ordered to refund the money, $1.2 million, that it overcharged horseplayers. The association agreed to do so.

At a meeting before the Franchise Oversight Board on Tuesday, a panel charged to, well, oversee NYRA operations--but also failed to discover the “oversight” in a timely manner—once again held NYRA to account.
At Tuesday's hearing NYRA said it could only uncover $500,000 in under-payments using tax records on wagers exceeding 300-1—a capricious and arbitrary practice figure since exotic winnings are almost exclusively the product of many combination wagers--and also computer printouts on bets made on its advance deposit wagering platform and phone bet service.

However, $700,000 proved untraceable since those bets were made live made through other platforms: On payoffs of less than 300-1, live transactions do not leave a paper trail. In addition to the $700,000 there is the matter of $7.9 million legally wagered at other venues. Those bettors were shorted as well.

The latter is very complex, tied to various simulcast rate fees and different takeout rates in other states. NYRA must get cooperation from those partners to recover money that, in effect, is owed them, but lacks the power to demand that audits be done.

Resultantly, if bettors who were cheated out of winnings cannot prove they placed and cashed wagers, they have no recourse. So what happens to the remaining $700,000? Here's one idea:

The only way to repay this debt in our view is to pour that money back into the betting pool. There are several ways to do this: The suggestion here is that the owed money be placed into one intra-race pool. NYRA can put the $700,000 into the straight pools of an over-filled race of quality runners, an allowance or stakes field. Straight pools have the lowest takeout and lower degree of difficulty.

Personally, I would prefer to see the money placed in a large, high-quality field offering superfecta wagering, the only intra-race pool in New York that offers fractional wagering: Players might be more comfortable in the familiar, less difficult trifecta, but NYRA does not yet offer a 50-Cent trifecta wagering as is done at popular winter betting venues such as Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs.

Why is it the NYRA always seems to be the last racetrack organization to respond to market conditions?

Certainly, NYRA is justified putting the $700,000 back into its own live pools so it can derive the greatest benefit, that’s not unfair. But it should also bend over backward to give more bettors a fair chance to share some of that money.

If NYRA were to think about putting $700,000 into a Pick Six pool, for example, thereby creating a huge, "free" carryover, they could turn it into a grand experiment: How about a one-day-only 10-Cent “Pick Six Rebate Special” with a mandatory Pick 5 consolation and one-time 15 percent takeout rate? Why not gives as many people as it can an opportunity to make a super-exotics score by giving them the leverage that a 10-Cent wager provides?

Surely NYRA can get State Racing and Wagering Board approval to conduct a one-day experiment while paying its debt to bettors. The results would prove interesting in the light it would shed on offering a fractional wager with a favorable takeout rate on a bet with a high degree of difficulty.

This, or any other specially created pool, should then be heavily promoted. This is a chance for NYRA to make lemonade out of this mess and do something for its loyal customers at the same time.

The “Pick 6 Rebate Special” could include stakes races that are part of the Wood Memorial undercard program. And it shouldn't be concerned if there are a few small fields. Rank and file bettors should be given a good chance to cash a big ticket. NYRA owes them, literally and figuratively.

Alas, here are two reasons why this probably will never happen? First, it wasn’t invented at NYRA. Second, the suits will figure that by promoting a special rebate wager the public would only be reminded they were cheated in the first place.

What does NYRA have to lose, its good will?


Written by John Pricci

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