Thursday, October 04, 2012
Team Cuomo's premature leaking of their preference for privatization provided a precarious preview of the practice of politics applied to problem-solving for New York racing.
All the Governor's horses and all the Governor's men still haven't put the New York Racing Assn. together again. At least, the executive order that officially reorganizes the NYRA and makes the search for a new chief executive possibly has been issued.
Presumably, Team Cuomo’s next encounter with the press will address shorter-term problems and display more of the increased competence and decreased corruption that was promised during their premeditated displacement of their predecessors.
It occurred to me while watching "‘Ahnold's’ "60 Minutes" interview Sunday night that racing seems to turn governors into "Governators." In 2009, Hollywood's imaginary "Terminator" signed a bill increasing takeout on exotic wagers at California tracks.
The bill had been pushed through the legislature by his CHRB Board appointees who literally dismissed prepared statistical testimony by horseplayers and California’s chief executive either preferred casinos to fill the state’s coffers or was looking for Native American PAC money, or both.
In 2012, NYRA's "terminator" sought to assume control, ironically based on the then-existing management's failure to lower takeout when required. Cuomo's image has not descended to the level of his former counterpart, but his remarks here
seem more like those of an "aggravator" rather than an "innovator."
'"We're going to be putting a new board in place to basically take control, and then how you do the business of quote-unquote horse racing and what is racing in the future, and how do you really incorporate all the knowledge and potential of the entertainment industry, which is a big component of this, is something we're working through," Cuomo said.
... Cuomo said he was not necessarily pushing for the racetracks to be put in private hands.
"I'm not really a horse racing expert," he said. "I don't know this industry especially well. The point of the exercise of appointing the board is to do the study and the research to answer that question."'
At most venues, privatization might be a valid alternative, but not so Saratoga Racecourse which is itself a museum of racing, a bastion of American tradition, and the source of fond memories that millions of life-long racing enthusiasts have, will take with them to their final resting place after, hopefully, passing their passion to the next generation.
Saratoga also is the centerpiece of a vital community and cultural center that most rational people would protect and preserve for future generations, not to mention an economic engine for that region. The big-picture profit motive, however, is not always compatible with such objectives.
Belmont Park, home of the too-often irrelevant Belmont Stakes, is also a scenic setting that would merit preservation if its sprawling surroundings capable of supporting the capacity crowds (100,000+) of Triple-Crown attempts, could attract them in years where the same horse doesn't win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Most telling is that -- even hosting six Breeders' Cup Preps on the sixth best day of racing, nationally -- attracted fewer than 9,000 on-track patrons. Belmont's residential community offers little to entice patrons from getting right back on the parkway.
OTBs, ADWs, alternative forms of gambling, the inconvenience/cost of getting to the track and the emergence of large-screen HDTVs that outperform binoculars have all negatively impacted Belmont attendance. Aqueduct faces the same problems but must also contend with weather/temperature variables.
Now it’s the second-class treatment of horse racing’s customers as compared with those of Genting’s clientele. Is profitability even a possibility while maintaining two physical plants ten miles apart without VLT revenue?
People are getting tired of hearing endless generalities but no specifics as to how racing will be promoted as a downstate entertainment destination. At some point the reality has to set in that the downstate track(s) must embrace the off-track customer to survive.
The NYRA can provide the product necessary to be the most entertaining venue – on-track and off – if it will start catering to recreational rather professional/high-volume bettors.
The new NYRA must take the lead by lowering direct takeout sufficiently that all customers are attracted to compete on a level playing field. It must then publicize who some of the winners are, and how they won. Promote socializing among players and support groups of fans of consistent winners.
The component combinations comprising each exotic IRS signer should be available for on-line viewing, and willing winners interviewed as to what thought processes were involved. Demystify winning and enable others to share and enjoy the experience; even if only vicariously. Some progress has been made in this area but much more is needed.
Create player partnerships that legally enable tax liability to be distributed among partners. Providing this service to NYRA account holders betting on-line would provide a competitive advantage to NYRA and grow customer interest substantially. Providing such a service to on-track patrons meeting for the first time could also augment couples handicapping contests for singles. Handicapping can be great entertainment as an activity done on one's own but even more entertaining as part of a group.
On Monday, New York's "Governator" signed the bill giving state appointees "temporary" control of the NYRA board for the next three years as reported in the Times Union '"Because it isn't just reporters who have deadlines, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed the legislation laying out the reorganization of the New York Racing Association, including the creation of a control board that will place NYRA in state hands for the next three years. The bill had to be signed by midnight.
We still don't know who the appointees to the board will be — though those names will be coming "in the near future," according to the governor's news release.
… "New York State's racing industry is a major economic driver in the state, supporting thousands of jobs and attracting tourists from around the world," Governor Cuomo said. "New York taxpayers and the betting public deserve a racing industry that is managed competently and does not neglect the health and safety of the horses.
“The NYRA Reorganization Board will restore public trust, accountability, and transparency to the racing industry in our state, so New York can continue to offer one of the most exciting, enjoyable, safe horse racing experiences in the nation. "'
The piece went on to quote several powerful legislative leaders who will be involved in making appointments to this "Reorganization Board."
The wagons are circling. Is filing one's tax return at the last minute the equivalent of the Governor's eleventh-hour heroics after more than three months had elapsed since the bill was passed?
Procrastination without production has been known to precede prevarication. Team Cuomo's priority should be "restoration" of transparency.
Written by Indulto
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Gov. Cuomo: Be Careful What You Wish For
On June 21, the New York State Legislature passed a bill to give effective control of NYRA to the Cuomo administration. Three months later, the Governor had still not signed the bill; nor had he provided any information publicly that indicated what would be done, and who would be doing it.
The only exception to the news blackout appeared to be occasional tidbits from unidentified sources dispensed by the New York Post’s Frederick U. Dicker who happens to be writing an authorized biography of the governor.
In the wee hours of September 24, Dicker apparently let multiple cats out of the bag in his ‘Governor’s ‘Bettor’ Way’ plan to kill NYRA and privatize horse racing
, some of which was confirmed a few hours later by Cuomo aide, Howard Glaser, on Dicker’s radio show which can be heard here
According to the DRF’s Matt Hegarty
, “Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, said on Monday morning that ‘the governor would have no comment on his plans for NYRA’s board or the information in Dicker’s column’.”
How in the name of greater transparency did we go from press conferences to disseminating information in drips and drabs through exclusive leaks to a favored member of the press who just happens to be writing an authorized biography?
My own reaction to Dicker’s revelation is one of amusement. It’s like falling asleep watching “Adam 12” and waking up to “Car 54 Where are you?”
Now I’m being scheduled to watch a replay of the Pataki era racing franchise renewal process and a revival of the deep-seated fears of Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) and Frank Stronach that were clearly in evidence among Saratoga supporters during the hearings. I’ve read this book before … the title was “Portnoy’s Complaint.”
Wrote Dicker: ”State officials believe operators of such prestigious tracks as Churchill Downs, …, as well as the managers of major entertainment destinations, will pay huge fees to run the three New York tracks.
“… It will take several months to draw up the specifics and bids will likely be solicited by the middle of next year.
“…Why not let Churchill Downs compete with Santa Anita, …, with Madison Square Garden for the best operation of the tracks?’’ asked the source.
“Aides to Cuomo had worked for months on a sweeping NYRA reorganization plan in preparation of the governor’s signing of new legislation giving the state direct control of the 55-year-old racing association’s operations.
“But in mid-summer, as the Saratoga meet got under way, the Cuomo aides decided that NYRA’s organizational structure and management team, …, wasn’t up to the job and that a new approach — proven outside management — was needed.
‘The NYRA model won’t work. It’s flawed, and it’s unable to do the job. Privatizing makes the most sense,’’ said the source.’
Hegarty reported, ”Howard Glaser … said … ‘the state is considering issuing a request for proposals to replace NYRA, the not-for-profit company that by law holds the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga until 2033.
“The option will be considered once NYRA’s board is reconstituted with a majority of state appointees and the new board has time to assess the association’s operations ... ‘We’ll see when the new board is in place what the ultimate review will entail,’ ”
Then things got a little more interesting. Continued Glaser: “…The “legal franchise” continues to reside with NYRA…that doesn’t change. That was part of a legal agreement. But that’s a different question as to who the operator is.”’
Surely Team Cuomo remembers CDI’s purchase of Hollywood Park and its subsequent failure to generate sufficient profits without the ability to install slot machines. As a result, CDI sold the track to the same developer who eventually razed Bay Meadows in Northern California and now plans the same fate for its Southern California property.
Did the Cuomo aides forget the Magna bankruptcy that followed Frank Stronach’s acquisition of racetracks in Florida, Maryland, California and elsewhere? Did they ignore not one, but two unsuccessful installations of synthetic surfaces at Santa Anita followed by a re-installation of a dirt surface at multi-million dollar expense each time?
Then there’s this: Would the political aspirations of the man who wouldn’t allow NYRA to outsource telephone call center jobs to CDI withstand the hypocrisy of outsourcing racetrack management jobs to Kentucky or elsewhere?
And how would the failure of “New” NYRA to improve the situation over the next three years impact the Governor’s political future?
In her “Saratogian” column
, Barbara Lombardo zeroed in on two Glaser understatements, “One thing is clear: The functioning of NYRA is substandard.”
and “I think it’s indisputable that NYRA has had a series of flaws in its management.”
Lombardo also pointed out that “Glaser did suggest that the three tracks could actually have different management, noting that Aqueduct “has a very different character” than it did before the introduction of slots and has a “very different character than Saratoga.”’
One could argue that it wasn’t the NYRA model that was dysfunctional, but rather its practitioners. Indeed it was a rudderless ship that sailed successfully into Saratoga’s September sunset with diminished and discouraged decision-making capacity. Some contend the current culture of leadership commenced well before the wayward Hayward came onboard.
I don’t see “New” NYRA losing its license to run Saratoga and it’s hard to imagine any entity not based in New York ever getting control of Belmont. I think it’s more likely that racing operations at Aqueduct would shut down than it is that some other entity would take it over.
When did Team Cuomo decide that evolution was insufficient and that revolution was necessary? When did the Blues Brothers suffer the illusion they were the Founding Fathers? Once they finally emerge from their deafening silence we can determine whether they were enrolled in witness or witless protection.
Oversight without insight is lunacy.
Written by Indulto
Monday, September 17, 2012
What, Me Worry?
Sometimes it seems to me that lots of horseplayers of my generation must have at one-time been readers of “Mad Magazine,” and some eventually became disciples of its “What Me Worry” character, Alfred E. Neumann.
Not so racing columnists Nick Kling, Paul Moran, and John Pricci, whose recent pieces reflected their author’s worries that this year’s Saratoga meet might not only have worn out writers and workers, but playing race watchers as well.
In It’s a wrap at Saratoga 144
, Mr. Kling wrote, “It's over. The 144th Saratoga Thoroughbred meet concluded Monday, 1,104 hours and 417 races after it began.
… Everybody loves the Spa season, and it beats the pants off most of the racing in the rest of America. Nevertheless, many have a guilty feeling of relief the meet is over.
The common theme is that were too many races, punctuated by an overabundance of cheap class levels which is not what Saratoga is supposed to be about. Several people have told me how they were worn out before the end of the card. Fans exiting early became a common sight this year.
… The seeming contradiction between on-track and total handle is evidence of the aforementioned on-track fatigue.”
In Where does Saratoga go from here?
, Paul Moran opined, “… this meeting was one of overextension in every sense; far too many races, days too long, and six-day weeks do not lend themselves to a festive atmosphere…
“By the meeting's fifth week, Labor Day could not come soon enough. Based upon the standard nine-race weekday and 10-race weekends, NYRA crammed the equivalent of more than 47 days of racing into 40. It did not pay off unless the point was to clear the grounds early and alienate both fans and staff.”
In Vox Populi and Streams From the Subconcious
, Mr. Pricci suggested, “… when compared to a typical downstate race-week, five days per week with 10 on weekends—Saturdays, anyway—it was as if 7-1/2 weeks were condensed into 6-1/2.
“… For the most part, despite one additional day this year, attendance was flat.
“... We were dead wrong about the projected handle. It’s the sense we had by watching people leave the track in significant numbers two or three races before the finale.
This, in a sense, underscores the belief of many wagering theoreticians that there’s a finite amount of betting money to be spent in any one session, whether that time frame is nine of 12 races long.”
I submit that what these gentlemen witnessed was a combination of the effects of 1) the extended life expectancy for aging horseplayers, 2) the likelihood that many attendees among the locals have a life outside the racetrack, and 3) the psychology of the unrebated player; the relevancy of which can be expressed by paraphrasing Amanda Mc Broom in her song, “The Rose:”
“When the losses are too frequent
And the bankroll is too small
And you think winning is only
For the lucky and the rich...”
I can speak with some authority on the loneliness of the long-distance horseplayer. One year during the ‘60s, I attended every day of the Saratoga meet -- losing over the first two weeks, and winning over the last two, but unable to show a profit with the costs of travel, parking, admission, Past Performances, and programs factored in. My rent for August had already been paid, and I would have had to eat my own cooking that month no matter what. When it was over, I decided to show up for my new job as planned.
Almost a decade later, I took a vacation during the last 2 weeks of Saratoga and stayed on for Belmont until my winning streak ended. Even after expenses, I flew home with more than I left with, and a memory that time seems to have enhanced. The IRS, however, eventually made short work of the former since I had little free time available to lose some of it back that year.
Do Winners Get Weary?
Unfortunately, others here will have to testify. I haven’t been back to Saratoga since, and I’ve never had another opportunity to immerse myself in the game for more than a weekend nor enjoyed the same extended success.
Fatigue wasn’t a factor over four weeks and some 200 interesting handicapping puzzles for a fellow in his 20s or 30s but these days I can’t even handle two successive days of immersion into the Breeders’ Cup races. Luckily, however, Zenyatta raced in the Saturday events the last two years of her career.
Last year, the racing gods seemed determined to frustrate what could have been my best-ever performance as a handicapper. Does Turallure – ALL mean anything to you? Fortunately, Drosselmeyer enabled me to end the day on a high note.
Had I actually achieved such a score in my younger days, I hope I’d have immediately started handicapping the next day’s Pick Six. But wait! That wager didn’t exist back then and NYRA didn’t race on Sundays.
I suppose that I would have had to be single as well: A woman’s wariness can be a greater obstacle than a man’s when it comes to extending unexpected winnings.
I’ve since learned that too much racing, with too many wagering options, subject to a too-high takeout rate that requires too large a bankroll doesn’t represent opportunity for the recreational player. Worse, it leads to wariness among would-be wager makers.
Was Bob Ehalt’s column, “More Saratoga would be a good thing
targeting the tiring, turf-writing trio above, or was he trying to titillate his readers with tongue–in-cheek testimony? Whatever his motivation, his willingness to alliterate is always welcome.
“Another sensational season at Saratoga has slipped away…and there’s one particular question begging for an answer.
“Could there be too much of a good thing?
“…The final attendance and wagering figures reflect that the Spa’s charm is hardly growing old.
“…So what will Team Cuomo do with a track that attracts 22,526 fans a day and handles $14.7 million a day in wagers? They’ll no doubt try to maximize or enhance revenue from the Spa …
“…So why not dispose with the pretense and make Saratoga the summer-long home of New York racing, and conduct the meet from the Fourth of July through Labor Day?
“…Horsemen and track workers may not like being away from home for two months, but it’s the fans that propel the sport …”
Even if a) Saratoga were somehow able to balance the demand for its resources for all its attractions during that period, b) the bankrolls of unrebated bettors were able to go the distance, c) the eyes of the young at heart didn’t glaze over at the sight of PPs for NY-breds, d) the turf course held up for eight weeks of turf sprints, and e) Mr. Pricci’s Diary remained a daily resource, the gains from Saratoga could be offset by losses at Belmont -- both pre- and post-Saratoga -- once something really special became commonplace.
Anticipation is defined as “an emotion involving pleasure, excitement, and sometimes anxiety in considering some expected or longed-for good event.” It is synonymous with enthusiasm, eagerness, and hope. It’s what Saratoga is all about. It’s what Aqueduct had going for it when horses still migrated South with the birds in winter.
I wouldn’t say that Mr. Ehalt’s proposal is for the birds, but it might just kill the Golden Goose.
Written by Indulto