Another New NYRA?

Would you believe that I planned last week to write a post for today about what’s going on at the New York Racing Association?

No, I probably wouldn’t either, if I were you, but it’s true.

Starting at the beginning of Derby week, when the New York Times reported that New York State alleged that NYRA knowingly withheld payment from bettors, the news about New York racing has been one hit after another. The Times published the second installment in its series about racing’s ills, focusing on Aqueduct; by the end of the week, both Charles Hayward and Patrick Kehoe had been dismissed.

I didn’t respond immediately for a couple of reasons. One was timing: getting ready to go to the Derby, juggling school commitments and writing commitments and hockey commitments (thank God there’s some good news there, at least), left little time for the sort of considered response that the events merited and that I wanted to offer.

I also wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to say, or how to say it. I know no more than what I’ve read, and I am cautious about responding to anything that’s been printed: allegation and speculation and investigation, oh my. I don’t know what’s true, and I’ve no interest in commenting on a situation that seems to change by the day, and about which I have no first-hand information or insight.

In addition, as a contributor to and the Belmont Stakes program, I have close ties to NYRA. In fact, it was NYRA and Charlie Hayward that made it possible for me to write about racing. In the summer of 2008, it was Hayward who was responsible for my being granted my first ever press credential, and nothing I’ve done since then would have been possible without the opportunities the organization gave me. I value that relationship and the work I do for NYRA.

Now, the State of New York has declared war on New York racing, withholding slots revenue and announcing an investigation into licensing and possible revocation of the franchise agreement. The State has made it clear that it wants greater involvement in the way racing is run, seeking greater representation on the NYRA board, this same state with not one but two agencies obliged to oversee NYRA’s operations, neither of which was apparently doing much overseeing while the alleged wrongdoings were being committed.

When NYRA handed over the tracks and their intellectual property as part of the most recent franchise agreement, I cringed. Having witnessed the dysfunction of this state’s government for decades, I couldn’t bear the thought of New York’s grand racing past and present in the hands of the corrupt, the inept, the self-interested, in the hands of people who have no understanding, much less an appreciation, of what racing has meant to this state since the middle of the 19th century.

And now, it seems, that is exactly what will come to pass. The lives and livelihoods of thousands of horses and humans in New York will be at the mercy of those with greedy agendas, of those who seem, if the recent past is any indication, to have little regard for the well-being of the state’s citizens if it doesn’t directly benefit them or advance their causes.

Whatever has or hasn’t happened at NYRA will and should be investigated. We can hope that some version of the truth—real truth, not just a convenient one–will make its way to the public, and that the public—and not only politicians–will be served.

Whatever has or happened at NYRA, the people who work there, and the people who work on the backstretch, and the people who work on farms and in feed stores and for van companies, deserve much, much better than to be pawns in New York State’s latest political game.

But that, I’m afraid, is exactly what they’ve got.

13 thoughts on “Another New NYRA?

  1. We don’t know yet, Teresa. I admit, like you, it wouldn’t surprise me, but the real point is that rather than knee-jerk blaming the state on making this a political game before we see how it plays out, why not blame NYRA? It had that same responsibility to those people’s livelihoods and thumbed its nose at that (and the state) repeatedly. If it weren’t this, it would’ve been something else. Now, I must say Charlie has been good and gracious to me and our paper, too. This saddens me, but NYRA is a cat with more than 9 lives, and the lives are up. I keep my fingers crossed, but anything that the state does forthcoming that I hold my nose at, I do so with the knowledge it has every right to.

  2. Does anyone really think the State can do this better? I got a nice bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in.

    …and how come I don’t read any articles by horse racing industry writers or bloggers about the Aqueduct Entertainment Group bidding fiasco for the VLT’s when Paterson was Governor and Cuomo was the NYS Attorney General . What has been done. Oh that’s right….nothing.

  3. Will, given my affiliation with NYRA, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to take a stance on whether it should continue overseeing the tracks. You make fair points, but regardless of what happens with NYRA, I just can’t see the state being responsible stewards of the franchise, given their tactics over at least the last decade.

    Robert, Alan Mann regularly talks about the AEG incident, and at the time, the Form covered it as well. Have there been recent developments?

  4. Notice the pattern? Spitzer and Paterson don’t get indicted, prosecuted, impeached, or serve any jail time for their actions. Cuomo does NOTHING, as both the Attorney General and as the governor, to indict, prosecute, or make recommendations that the politicians involved in the Aqueduct Entertainment bid-rigging scam be held accountable. Cuomo allows some time for the AEG fiasco to fade, does NOTHING to those involved except, appoint Paterson to the MTA Board. Drape and the Times do NOTHING in terms of an expose’ illustrating how corrupt New York politicians tried to enrich themselves and their cronies (costing the state and it’s citizens millions of dollars), while they attempted to gain control of a casino operatorship. Cuomo and his lackey, Sabini, allow the public sufficient time for the thought political corruption in racing to fade but, do NOTHING to those politicians “allegedly involved.” Then, it’s back to the corrupt politicians’ agenda of wanting to take control of thoroughbred racing. Cuomo should be impeached for malfeasance and aiding and abetting criminals. His actions and his lackey, Sabini’s, are egregious and contemptible. I hope he’s NEVER allowed to an elected office again!!!

  5. Teresa–Yes of course Alan over at his Left at the Gate blog is outstanding on the AEG fiasco. There have been no developments on the AEG investigation, that’s my point. Shouldn’t there have been arrests? indictments? etc. Maybe follow ups in the mainstream press to shed a light on how the AEG issue has now gone quiet” will allow the public to see NY State’s messy hands.

  6. Hayward relied on the concept of “churn” as both his solution and excuse for NYRA’s (in)ability to increase handle and in promoting the game without addressing any other options to improve the horse racing industry in NY State. Ironically enough his demise came from not decreasing the takeout. Because of NYRA’s contribution to the total national handle Hayward ran NYRA as if it (and he) were too big to fail. He seemed focused on pet projects (sports bars with betting kiosks) with total disregard of input from industry analysts and state overseers. A change was necessary, the takeout scandal is not an allegation but a fact and alone sufficient for dismissal (with or without knowledge, which clearly now seems there was knowledge if you just read the emails without any bias, Hayward stating himself he could not correct the takeout error because it would make him appear weak). Regardless of what happens in the next few months, as is clearly evident by the actions of the governor a major shift in the paradigm of horse racing operations will occur, most likely in the form of privatizing the sport in NYS.

  7. I agree that the state of NY has selected the NYRA as its victim in an effort of bully its way to capture advance financial gain in the form of the casino slot money. Clearly that is the end game here. WIthout land rights the nyra is a tenent at the tracks it serves. The casino at Aqueduct is viewed by the state as their venture and there is no need to reward the occupant with the financial gain that is experienced from the legislation the state passed.
    Objectively, the state ownes the track, casino and surrounding land. Why should they share? More Money for rich owners in the form of purses? The NYRA did little to make the experience better for the punters? Did Charlie plan improvements for the backyards at the tracks?, lower mutual take?, wireless betting capability?, High def broadcast system? reasonable consession prices? new tv’s , etc.?

    Maybe this is going in the right direction as a 20% take and the lack of love shown to the betters is getting tough to take. A change would be welcome.

    • Thanks for the comment, Thomas. For what it’s worth, some of the changes that you mention were in fact in the works: wireless capability is now available at Belmont and is planned to be at Saratoga as well; improvements to the backyard at Saratoga are part of the plan that was revealed last summer (available here); and at Saratoga last summer, prices of many concessions (food and beverage) were lowered.

      Many of these issues were addressed at the NY Fan Advisory Council meeting in March (which I wrote about here); at that point, Ellen McClain said that while high-definition televisions were defintely on a “wish list,” I got the sense that for a variety of reasons, we wouldn’t see that any time soon.

      This is not to disagree with anything that you said, just wanted to point out that some of the changes are in the works. They don’t address all of your concerns, certainly.

  8. Not being familiar with all the facts in the case but I used to think racinos would help horse racing but now in many cases the casino aspect seems to be a weapon that will be used to eliminate the racing side. The powers that be in this and other cases, who profess to care about the welfare of the horse, don’t seem too concerned about what will happen to the horses and the people who work in racing if/when they decide to shut the tracks down…

  9. Teresa,
    Could not agree more with all you have said. It certainly is a shame because whenever government gets involved in anything it ruins it.
    Was it Thomas Jefferson that said ? “the peoples liberties are most protected when congress is out of session”

    Have a blessed day,

  10. Steve Crist was on the Mike Francessa radio show Wed afternoon,and he described this period we are going thru as “heartbreaking”. I couldn’t agree with him more about that. And if Mike happens to follow this blog, “that woman” is named Ellen McClain. She is very, very impressive and will probaly be a CEO of a major corporation one of these days.

  11. While I agree that a state takeover of racing will be disasterous and most likely signal the death knell of NY racing it is obvious that this is a power grab by Cuomo and his fellow bottom feeders. However
    as Mr. Mcdermott points out NYRA has done absolutely nothing for its fan base. NYRA refused to make even minor improvements: hire
    people to clean and fix the seats, have at least one decent place to eat at AQU and BEL, hire someone to fix the sound on Channel 71, hire broadcasters who promote the sport of racing instead of their screeching self promotion, better Internet service and so on.
    Instead we got raises for NYRAs top execs, $1 phone betting surcharges, high Saratoga ticket prices and general lack of any consideration for the public or backstretch workers.
    As for Ms. McClain being very impressive- she may very well be- but any organization under investigation for fiscal malfeasance that makes its CFO the CEO is beyond crazy. Thank you for letting me vent and I wish everyone on this site the best of luck.

  12. Right now, Cuomo is wanting to “look good” to people who don’t follow racing like we do and placate certain people who may help fund his bid at running for President in 2016, which is when he is expected to run for the White House. Of course, that bid could be thwarted if Hillary decides to run, but that right now seems to be why Cuomo is what he is and is doing what he is doing.

    I actually don’t see Aqueduct being so quickly converted into a convention center aside from the third floor of the Grandstand that already was slated to become convention space anyway as I recall: There is a considerable swath of land on the other side of the train tracks at Aqueduct that is mostly deserted and could very easily be the base for the convention center, relocating relatively few families and being far less expensive to build most of the center on, using pedestrian bridges between there and the subway, casino and racetrack. Also, tunnels and pedestrian bridges could be built under Aqueduct to access the infield for outdoor conventions in warm weather and winter-related events in the colder months. Given the less likelihood of lawsuits and other factors (including either winterizing Belmont, building a new grandstand where the training track is so the training track can be used for racing in the winter or building an entirely new racetrack to replace Aqueduct), it may in the end prove much cheaper to build the convention center on the opposite side of the train tracks and connect it to everything else.

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