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.'
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," skewered Skorton.
"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.