Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Transparency or Invisibility, That Is the Question
LOS ANGELES, January 14, 2013--I had a vision: Governor Cuomo was sitting between the Everly Brothers as they all harmonized to the tune of "Crying in the Rain:"
I’ll never let you see
The Inspector General’s Report to me
I’ve done my crying and I know how to hide
The incompetence I disdain
Until no overseers remain
It came to me in a vision sometime last week following the announcement in the Saratogian, that "John Sabini was stepping down as chairman of the New York Racing & Wagering Board to pursue other career opportunities."
"The Racing & Wagering Board will cease functioning independently Feb. 1, when it merges with the state Division of Lottery to form a new State Gaming Commission."
"Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t announced who will be on the commission. Members, including the chairman, will be paid on a nominal, per diem basis. They are not full-time salaried positions."
For once it was possible to laugh with the ex-NYSRWB Chairman as he implicitly acknowledged that sometimes he has been the target of press corps humor when he shared a self-deprecating moment with writer, Paul Post: ‘… the board itself reduced 30 percent of its full-time staff, which he said had become “a political dumping ground for certain political folks.”
"We got the board in better fiscal shape," Sabini said.
(As the former chairman secured his pension in advance of his agency’s--and his own job’s demise--it wasn’t clear whether that 30% included his position with its salary of $124,476).
Until reporter James Odato can pry the report out of Team Cuomo by using the Freedom of Information Law--unless someone on the second floor of the State Capitol leeks it to him first--we won’t know just how remiss the NYSRWB was in not fulfilling its assigned oversight responsibility, thereby contributing to the takeout fiasco.
Does this give us more or less confidence in his continued involvement in New York racing, I wonder? Is he, perhaps even more than Chairman Skorton, the Governor’s fly on the boardroom wall?
The remainder of the Sabini interview might suggest to some that despite his claimed accomplishments in the wake of NYCOTB’s bankruptcy, he left New York racing pretty much the way he found it.
‘"NYRA has been very focused on getting people in the Capital District to spend a day at the track with their friends," said Sabini, a Queens resident. "It’s not marketed down here as well."
Possible suggestions included fewer, shorter racing days including a scaled back Aqueduct winter meet, he said. NYRA’s year-round calendar has 250 racing programs.
Downstate fans, in particular, are saturated from September to mid-July, he said. "There’s nothing special about it," Sabini said.
With the exception of events such as Showcase Day, Holidayfest, the Wood Memorial, Met Mile and Belmont Stakes, it isn’t. And, sadly, that’s the case at any and all American racetracks.
Rather than promote that Belmont Stakes as the traditional "Test of Champions" for a horse who gallantly captured the first two legs, the 2012 Belmont became a hostile-to-horsemen environment of suspicion orchestrated by Sabini.
The trainer of the Triple Crown candidate was treated as if he were a Manchurian Candidate. Whether or not it was deserved, no such official attitude was observed in Kentucky or Maryland.
Do NYRA’s customers, both in and out-of-state, desire a jurisdiction more restrictive than those existing elsewhere, or do they want to see uniformity among venues that supports fairness and equality for both horsemen and horseplayers?
Does reinforcing suggestions that the game is not on the level promote it properly while little is being done to change it?
The "specialness" of Belmont Fall has definitely been compromised. Even Jockey Club Gold Cup day has failed to draw crowds commensurate with the quality of the horses competing. This is due not only to colder weather, a competing mainstream sports calendar and Grade 1 events serving mainly as Breeders’ Cup preps, but smaller foal crops have resulted in fields short on quality and quantity, a less attractive gambling proposition.
In addition, none are the culmination of a bonus-incentivized series.
To elevate the status of at least a sub-set of its rich array of graded stakes, NYRA must recognize and reward the cumulative accomplishments of its participants. Just as Churchill Downs has circumvented the Graded Stakes Committee and specified its own qualifying races, so should NYRA – not only for berths in the starting gate, but also for bonuses based on performances across a series of races.
Suppose, for example, finishing 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th in the Jockey Gold Cup could make each of those horses eligible for a variable bonus based on their cumulative top four finishes in the Metropolitan, Suburban, Whitney, and/or Woodward.
The JCGC still would attract horses prepping for the Classic (the last three BC winners were JCGC starters that finished behind the winner), but now other proven performers within the division, possibly reluctant to compete a furlong further, might do so for a bigger payday. And such a concept need not be limited to older males.
What gets people to the track are a) good horses, b) good gambling opportunities, c) good weather and d) good company. More effective marketing would be to concentrate on these areas, rather than concerts, giveaways and the like.
When the Pick Six first came to California, seminars by professional handicapper Gordon Jones, were very popular with new players. He would handicap the Pick Six with input from the audience and structure the tickets. The audience was then invited to participate to purchase shares for any amount each of them wished.
(Jones covered what remained and – as I understood it – returned the purchased percentage of the payoff balance after withholding. The Hollywood seminars were held on-track while those at Santa Anita were conducted off-track at nearby restaurants.)
Belmont is big enough for competing handicappers to simultaneously conduct on-track educational handicapping sessions and create class project mini-whales. Some of the NYRA social media handicapping personalities are so popular they’d never have to put up a dime of their own—if they were allowed to do so.
Add to that the ability of tracks to distribute tax liability among on-track players with IDs forming any ad-hoc partnership and attendance could explode.
"We have to try different things to make the product more interesting and the on-track experience more fun," Sabini added. Do you think that this is what he or the new Gaming Commission had in mind?