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.
But even that might not work: Odato
. It seems unlikely we’ll ever know to what degree more vigilance on the part of the Franchise Oversight Board, chaired by Robert Megna, who now sits on the New NYRA Board, might have eliminated or shortened the 15-month takeout overcharge.
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?
Written by Indulto
Monday, January 07, 2013
What Will the Next Meeting Bring?
LOS ANGELES, January, 7, 2013-Three respected observers weighed in on the New NYRA Board of Directors' initial integrity test in the sunlight of greater transparency.
Steven Crist described the moment as "comic" in the DRF
"Among the various resolutions the new board was asked to approve was one prohibiting corporate officers from wagering on the races. This is a silly and unnecessary restriction, unfairly suggesting impropriety, and it raised some eyebrows.
"Why would we prohibit officers wagering, since we're in the wagering business? " asked Stuart Janney, a board member and the chairman of the Jockey Club.
I thought I heard some assenting murmurs, and it seemed for a moment that there might be some actual discussion and dissension amid the thud of rubber-stamp approvals. Then someone pointed out that board members are not technically corporate officers and could continue playing the races.
The room exhaled, and the resolution passed unanimously."
To paraphrase an old saw, one writer's comedy is another's tragedy. Teresa Genero appeared to take the moment fairly seriously in Forbes
, questioning whether integrity of the sport would be strengthened by such a policy. She noted that: 'New board chair Dr. David Skorton, president of Cornell University, said in supporting the resolution, "The idea is that the loyalty and responsibility of the people managing the organization, the most senior people, are focusing on whatever it is that the board decides needs to be done, not any acts that might conceivably bring personal recompense.'
Then continued: "It seems curious, though, that the policy doesn't apply to the NYRA board of directors, which is also in a position to make decisions that should be, to quote Skorton, unencumbered by the possibility of personal recompense. "
In one example countering the policy, Genero wrote, "At Keeneland Race Course, one of the most prestigious tracks in the country, employees are not expressly prohibited from wagering, according to a spokesperson. Unsurprisingly for an enterprise that features exemplary customer service, Keeneland asks that employees wager early in the day to avoid interference with their professional responsibilities and creating additional wait time in wagering lines for guests."
Though he seemed unmoved by the moment, Tom Noonan questioned its necessity in his blog
"There was one telling discussion during the meeting. It had to do with a proposal to ban wagering by NYRA's corporate officers. I did not understand the need for such a ban since there had not been any problems identified in the past from allowing wagering, and I could not think of a possible rationale for the revision…
“I personally find Keeneland's position the most reasonable… However, I do see the board eventually accepting a similar restriction on its members. Anything less would brand them as either a bunch of hypocrites or else compulsive gamblers incapable of supporting the "greater good."
I wonder if Dr. Skorton momentarily considered suggesting that possibility to the board whose voting majority is still comprised of veterans from prior NYRA boards, or if he was relieved that confrontation had been avoided on his maiden voyage into the sun.
I also wonder if this policy is tied to some finding in the still-not-released Inspector General's report on the takeout fiasco. Was evidence of excessive wagering activity by executives uncovered by investigators? If so, did it play any role in the Governor's decision to shake things up? As Ms. Genero so aptly put it, "Gamblers need not apply. "
Indeed, will past gambling activity be held against new applicants? I can only imagine how many qualified candidates that would eliminate! Is the Governor and his New NYRA Board Chairman dangerously close to proverbially throwing out the baby with the bathwater?
Could a suggestion that recreational betting on horse racing might be less socially acceptable than another form of gambling or entertainment further dampen enthusiasm for the sport, becoming an unintended consequence?
When I started attending the races at Saratoga in the '60s, gambling there considered a positive social experience that engaged people of all backgrounds and bankrolls.
In upstate New York where I grew up, virtually everyone I knew had a family member who attended Saratoga at least once each year. It wasn't unusual during August in the Capital District for a working stiff to request a day off to go to the races without getting hassled by his employer.
After re-locating downstate, it dawned on me that horseplayers there were markedly less visible and often stereotyped as less-than; a notion reinforced when Off Track Betting was introduced.
Eventually, on-line wagering would negate the effects of social stigma but often squalled OTB parlors became an obstacle to attracting new customers. In New York, the barrier to recruitment also includes politicians who lord over the game because they can by playing the society card.
Just recently, Tom Noonan resumed his assault on the logic behind NYRA’s executive wagering ban "I’m shocked … gambling is going on in here,"
"If he thinks the lure of putting down a wager indicates an insufficient commitment to one’s employer, what would he say of the President of an Ivy League college taking a part-time gig that not only requires travel to Manhattan or Saratoga Springs from Ithaca, but that (hopefully) requires a significant commitment to carrying out one of the Governor’s major initiatives?"
"What I find troubling, however, is what this says about the new Chair’s mindset on the gambling that is an essential part of the industry. It is hard to draw any inference other than that he thinks it reflects negatively on someone who does enjoy betting when he cannot trust highly paid executives to carry out their responsibilities while also placing an occasional wager."
Noonan credited Ms. Genero’s article as motivating his "revisiting" the subject. Indeed both bloggers have been challenging the Governor’s motives and justification for reorganizing NYRA since the plan was announced. In the process, they have raised serious questions regarding the takeout fiasco which remain unanswered.
Hayward’s firing did not sit well with either of the above who have contended that state agency heads assigned oversight responsibility for NYRA were no less derelict in their duty than NYRA executives in failing to observe the statutory sunsetting of the temporary takeout increase enacted when the state took over NYCOTB. I agree with them about the latter, but not the former.
Leaking partial contents of the Inspector General’s report does not rise to the level of transparency promised by Team Cuomo. Their reluctance to release that report in the light of this latest misstep suggests that doing so might reveal more of them.
For those of us who hoped, if not expected, the NYRA reorganization would yield positive racing-related reform, this is a step backward – perhaps as far back as 17th century England’s Puritan Protectorate
"Cromwell's government divided the country into 11 districts, each under a major general who were responsible not only for tax collection and justice, but for guarding public morality as well. Church attendance was compulsory.
Written by Indulto
Tuesday, January 01, 2013
A Welcome New Voice in the Wilderness
LOS ANGELES, December 31, 2012--Every once in a while I encounter some fresh thinking in cyberspace that yields a "Butch and Sundance" moment: "Who is that guy?"
Apparently others have been asking that question about a blogger who calls himself The Electric Horseman (TEH), and writes a blog called Horse Racing Must Evolve
Indeed, it was a friend who asked if I were familiar with that individual so I decided to Google his work.
TEH appears to be addressing racetrack management in a series of pieces he has written, all of which contain concepts worth contemplating. In the earliest one, he looked at the way tracks treat their on-track customers as compared with on-line customers:
"When over 20 or 30 years you create a scenario in which invisible customers and their machines sitting at home and online are afforded all of the advantages, and you do almost nothing to correct that giant, industry-wide blunder, you are dooming only yourselves and the industry you are perceived to want to preserve."
"... [Racing] can sure stand to lift more than just a (the?) single finger toward the new and/or novice fans that bother to pay the extra daily costs required to attend the races live. Horse racing, unlike all other sports, continues to maintain an environment where its on-site crowds are put at a decided disadvantage while in direct competition with those who stay home to watch online or on TV!!!"
"At the root of your parimutuel wagering, you are extracting 14-30% of every dollar wagered on your product. Your "whales" and other preferred customers are beating that number steadily over time, and often by a whole lot. This in turn ratchets-up the effective take-out on the newcomers and the novices, who are left dangling, often with no clue about a sport that demands considerable understanding before a person can be competitive. "
So, I was surprised when he wrote the following: "There is exactly nothing wrong with the core parimutuel takeout at most North American racing venues ..."
Subsequently he revealed an anti-professional player agenda with anti-HANA (Horseplayer Association of North America) undertones:
"This isn't about the mutuel takeout, no matter what is constantly trumpeted by those whose lone interests lie in trying to beat the game over the long haul. Those individuals, who have now become a giant liability to horse racing, can't seem to understand that it is their own very existence amid a game otherwise marketed to numbers- and colors-players, which is maintaining a giant wedge between horse racing and the mainstream gambling public."
"Horse racing has perhaps unwittingly tipped the playing field so far toward its high-volume and repeat customers that the dire consequences will eventually clear-out race tracks all together. In what other arena does a business make things so relatively easy for a small segment of its customers that they STAY HOME in order to maximize their relative perks while at the same time the on-site customer suffers a great disadvantage as a direct result?"
Later, he ventured into the realm of horse racing's future: "... With future audiences so accustomed to having so much done for them, it is exactly WRONG to imagine these same audiences wanting to regress 40 years (into O.T.B. environs?) where they should then be expected to go through the laborious task of being left alone to learn all things Horse Racing, practically on their own.
"The scores and scores of minute tasks which fall under the label of "handicapping" will simply need to be effectively done for them (at modern computer speed) in order to draw significant interest from audiences of the future."
There is much more at that blog that merits digesting and debating. You don't have to agree with him to appreciate his attitude and accomplishment. Interestingly as it turns out, the blogger Pull The Pocket shares some of TEH’s concern for newcomers and gently excoriated the SCORE-64 bet we discussed here recently at HRI.
In his piece, The Jackpot Obsession
, he wrote, "It's called the "64" where a pick 6 ticket can be taken but it can have no more than 64 combo's for a dollar.
“The hope is that newbies can participate in jackpot bets, because (as we all know) syndicates and big players tend to shoot for large jackpot bets, and crowd out the little guy. Noble I guess, but this fixation on jackpot bets, especially for newbies, really kind of irks me."
In the spirit of to each his own, one of PTP’s "fixations" is betting exchanges: "Betfair is very popular with new players because you can trade (a version of scalping), dutch, and grind out a little scratch with (if you are good) zero takeout."
I wonder how soon newbies become "very good" at exchange betting. Unlike TEH, though, PTP is a huge HANA supporter and is also one of the good guys.
Roger, who occasionally comments at HRI, interestingly proposed a $1 Pick 6 non-carryover wager capped at $64 as an alternative to the $2-minimum carryover Pick Six bet. Reiterating, the “Score-64” wager offers multiple-tier payouts with no carryover along with the lower minimum and greater transparency on how the bet was won; a teachable moment.
What seems to attract the most opposition to this vision is its proposed 64-combination limit per ticket and the minimum cost for each combination.
Perhaps having the number of combinations alive announced to the public after the fourth leg, similar to what is being done at Gulfstream with its Rainbow Pick 6, would provide a hint as to the potential tiered payoffs and help build further interest. This could help churn via the dutching of marginal contenders in the final two legs of the sequence.
The considerable success of the 50-Cent Players Pick Five suggests that the average bettor would be more likely to play this new wager at that level of investment.
A 25-Cent minimum eventually night make it as popular as the Dime Super, a pool that continues to grow while no longer cannibalizing the Trifecta pool to a major degree. Of course, the downside is limiting the prospects of a life-changing score and watering down potential payoffs at the tiered 4-winner and 5-winner levels. Either way, continued dialogue is a good thing.
Written by Indulto