Friday, May 08, 2009
Racing’s Problems the Same All Over
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 7, 2009--Friday, May 8 was the deadline set by New York Gov. David Patterson for firms seeking the Aqueduct gaming contract to submit their bids. That day has come.
Now what? Shall we wait another eight years?
The good news is that it probably no longer will cost New York taxpayers a million dollars a day in revenue from the non-existent VLT machines at Aqueduct Racetrack. Why?
Because the projected wins per machine can’t be nearly as high as those who want the machines in place--virtually everyone--estimates it will be. That was then; potential over-saturation is now.
“We can’t wait to get Aqueduct going,” the state’s Lottery Director, Gordon Medenica, told the local Saratogian newspaper last week.
“We think it will be a tremendously successful facility. We think it will generate revenue for the state on par with Yonkers [Raceway]. Yonkers generates as much revenue as the other [racetrack-VLT] facilities combined.”
And this, from informal remarks made by Medenica after a recent meeting of the Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee:
“From the perspective of Lottery, being co-located with horse racing doesn’t do anything for our profitability.” And more.
“VLTs are almost completely independent of the horse racing business. We see no interaction between the two,” Medenica told reporter Paul Post.
Except, of course, that the VLTs wouldn’t legally exist unless the tracks that house them were there in the first place.
And given the penchant of lawmakers to raisie the parimutuel takeout on horse racing, getting this rubber-stamped should be easy.
In today’s political environment is anyone surprised that Medenica would try to dial back his remarks categorized as being informal?
But having no appreciation for the intent of the original legislation: to boost all horse racing in the state, a billion dollar agri-business that employs tens of thousands, is inexcusable.
The impetus for Medenica’s remarks apparently was that net wins from racinos for the fiscal year rose over 10 percent but overall profits fell nine percent because of the drain racing puts on the VLT side.
When making comparisons like this, shouldn’t apples be kept with the apples?
Obviously, putting on a racing program is more expensive, requires a sizable parcel of real estate, the construction of barns, racing surface, lights, maintenance, security, service employees, etc., etc.
So the tracks provided the property, bore startup costs and the daily operating expenses. Then along comes Lottery to install the machines, hand out plastic cups, provide a stool and that’s where their obligation ends. Nice work if you can get it.
Sadly, some track executives are beginning to think like Lottery types. In California, where racing is on serious life support, Hollywood Park president Jack Liebau recently said he’s confident California racing would survive but wasn’t sure at what level.
Liebau thinks that racing must change; get away from its intellectual problem-solving roots and create more no-brainer bets such as the odd/even wager that he likens to roulette.
What Liebau failed to acknowledge was that a roulette wheel spins every minute while racing fans must wait a minimum 20 minutes between races. Who needs that?
Further, an “evens” longshot might pay 6-5. Conversely I can’t remember the last time I saw double zeros on a saddle cloth. Horse racing in California, even in its present condition, is currently is a $4-billion a year business employing almost 60,000 people.
Fortunately, elected officials from many counties around New York State attended the Gaming and Wagering meeting and most had vested interests in racing’s well being and didn’t appreciate Medenica’s remarks.
The Racing and Wagering Committee is chaired by Sen. Eric Adams, who apparently gets it about racing’s contributions to the state. He doesn’t believe any one segment of the gaming industry brings down another.
Adams has his staff working on ways to improve the gaming industry in New York and would like to recapture tourism by taking full advantage of gaming by being more creative.
Toward that end, Adams’ people are looking into such possibilities as expanded VLTs, table games and sports betting. He asked Medenica to provide an overview of the issues that have an effect on lottery trends.
Adams, a Democrat from Brooklyn, became the committee chair when that party took control of the Senate in the last election.
For a change, maybe it will be the racing industry that gets some stimulation from the government?