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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

No News Is No News

- No developments on the franchise on Tuesday, but a couple of things to mention.

Good job by Matt Hegarty in the Form, pointing out how the Oversight Board's extension offer appeared to provide some political cover for [Republican] opponents of a legislative agreement, which is supported by Spitzer and Sheldon Silver...both of whom are Democrats.

The oversight board was created in 2005 by former Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, who selected three of its five members. A fourth member, Joseph Torani, was selected by the Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, the powerful Republican who has led the opposition to a long-term extension of NYRA's franchise. The fifth oversight board member, Madelyn Wils, was selected by Silver. [DRF]
And the NY Daily News included an opinion column by one Bill Hammond, whose name I've only fleetingly encountered during my travels around the web in search of news relevant to our purposes. Entitled Hold your horses, governor, it's the latest anti-NYRA editorial by a clueless writer who simply rehashes those familiar themes - scandal, bankruptcy, decreasing attendance, etc., - in simplistic fashion, without any acknowledgment of NYRA's reform efforts and clean bill of ethical health, nor making the slightest attempt to explore the complex reasons behind NYRA's financial situation and its declining live crowds.

As is often the case in these editorials, the writer quickly flaunts his ignorance of the subject.
[NYRA] would also receive a generous slice of the revenues from video lottery machines to be installed at Aqueduct - money that would otherwise be earmarked for schools.
That money is of course earmarked for whoever is operating the tracks, NYRA or not, and it's laughable if the writer really believes that either of the for-profits he fancies, Capital Play or Empire, wouldn't receive at least the same share.

The bit about money "earmarked for schools" makes one think that Hammond was reading from a Capital Play bullet points memo. That consortium's relentless attacks, which started up as if on cue as Empire faded away, is clearly having an effect. The audience that their negative TV ad is targeted to - which includes columnists like Bill Hammond - knows little about the subject, and as they read and hear the same points hammered away, with little to no rebuttal from the other side, they accept it as the whole truth. It's no different from what political campaigns are these day, and that's why candidates with the most money with which to run negative ads usually win.

And that's also why Capital Play hired the experienced Sheinkopf Communications as their political consultant/communications strategist; the firm has worked for Bill Clinton, and for Eliot Spitzer himself. They were hired to help form public opinion, and I'd venture a guess that NYRA's poll numbers could be worse than even the president's right now. You certainly have to give Sheinkopf credit, and to Capital Play for selecting them. But I don't expect to read a columnist in one of the top circulated papers in the country merely echo their PR without making any effort whatsoever to explore the details - and questions - behind them.

16 Comments:

Mike D/ said...

Agree. Lame reporting. Makes you wonder what you can believe in the NYT, especially when it comes to a subject you don't really know well.

New Rule: If you do not know AND TRUST the writer, you cannot believe the story.

Anonymous said...

Do you think NYRA's poll numbers could be worse than Congress?

If so,that's pretty bad!

Anonymous said...

The NYRA scandal, bankruptcy, decreasing attendance, has been repeated so much it has become Urban Legend.

In reverse order, lets review in a pithy (for me) manner.

Decreasing Attendence.

What track has increasing attendance?

Other than NYRA run SPA, not too many. This is an industry trend and NYRA operates one of the few tracks that bucks the trend.

I would like to see a comparison of the different major tracks by percentage decrease in attendance. Bet Belmont is not too bad in comparison to GULF or Socal. And AQU is probably no worse than other winter venues.

Much of the decrease is directly attributable to the parasitic nature of OTB, competition from a goverment entity that now questions its right to exist.

Overall handle is the much better indicator of track health, and that trend is up, up, up under NYRA.

Bankruptcy.

Simple, IF Albany had approved the VLT's in a fair and timely manner, like it did for every harness track in the State, there would be no bankruptcy issue. Silly argument.

Scandal.

The problems essentially boil down to a lack of oversight by management over it's employees, the mutual clerks. Nowhere in the documents does it state that the trustees knew of this behavior.

Not good that it happened, but hardly a scandal in the grand scheme of corporate scandals. Simply a lack of good accounting internal controls.

Oh, yeah, there were some expense report anomolies that are were questionable, but not criminal or even out of the ordinary (as opposed to, say, using state owned helicopters to conduct personal businees, or state paid employees to conduct personal vendettas against politcal opponents).

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

Why NYRA was indicted while all the Insurance and Wall Street firms investigated and charged by Spitzer are still allowed to conduct business I will leave to your imagination.

Suffice to say, compared to what was going on in downtown NYC, NYRA's issues are hardly scandalous.

I rest my case.

Feel free to debate, but please make your case with facts, not Capital Play and Empire talking points.

micclay said...

I agree with what anonymous said, and add one other thought.

NYRA's Board should resign. There choice of management and lack of oversight of this management let the tellers play their games.

NYRA has reformed, but because of delayed prosecution. They need to be checked in the future.

I have no confidence in the State Auditors, Sen Larkin, Joe 'Stuff my Pockets' Bruno, etc.

A real quamire!

Glimmerglass said...

The pollster that Capital Play hired to do a phone survey of New Yorkers must've had a hard time finding people who knew what NYRA stood for let alone much else to form an opinion.

Yep I'm a racing junkie originally from NY so I know it, but does the average Joe know who operates the big 3 tracks in NY? Especially a resident in Binghamton, Buffalo, or Syracuse? Yea right.

The point being that really outside of Saratoga/Albany and marginally in NYC this whole showdown is relatively obscure.

I'd like to think that NYRA could put some pressure on the subject by pointing out that the State government will loose $X in their revenue cut each day that racing is dark in NY. No idea how the State would make up that shortfall otherwise.

The average taxpayer in Otsego County isn't going to care that horses aren't racing in winter.

However, if racing stopped means (1) less revenue for the State, (2) a budget shortfall in any capacity and (3) increased tax burdnes - then they'll care.

El Angelo said...

I'm at the point where I've (a) stopped paying attention to all the stupidity that's discussed regarding the franchise, as the story changes every day (this is not a criticism of you, Alan), and (b) trying to figure out why the hell I care about New York racing at all. I'm waiting to hear a SINGLE party show me how any of this positively impacts the racing fan or bettor. I suspect that day won't come. And these pinheads wonder why handle is down.

Anonymous said...

El An, Your point about positives for the day in and day out bettor, or just plain fan, is well taken.

One of the Franchise bidders suggested a big increase in take out, which would negatively effect the bettor.

Alan, refresh my memory, but wasn't it Capital Play that proposed raising the takeout?

alan said...

Capital Play's proposed takeout rates are here. Exacta players would suffer the most by far.

Anonymous said...

Hey Alan,

Get anymore personal email responses from Charlie Hayward lately? You are so far up NYRA's butt that you cannot see both sides to this argument. AQU and BEL are two of the lousiest places to see and bet on races. NYRA has a history that should be buried.

Anonymous said...

lower the takeout NYRA,or I'm going to put my money in poker.

alan said...

>>You are so far up NYRA's butt that you cannot see both sides to this argument.

Happy holidays to you too!

Let's go over this one more time for those who don't understand. This is not intended as an objective news source. Here, I express my opinion, and, after careful consideration, I'm currently of the belief that the MOU is the best basis for a solution to the situation. I think that I make a good effort to present all sides of the argument. But I dunno, maybe I don't, and if that's so, well, so what? You can read and agree, or read and disagree, but please refrain from the rude anatomical references or I'll be forced to utilize the delete button.

Teresa said...

Aqueduct and Belmont are two of the worst places to watch races? You must be hanging out at much nicer racetracks than most of us.

Of the nearly dozen tracks I've been to in the last year, only Keeneland and Saratoga are more pleasant than the two downstate tracks, even including Aqueduct's many physical drawbacks (which do not include the clubhouse). Without nice weather, Gulfstream is horrendous; Philly Park is hellish; Delaware's fine but unexceptional (paddock excluded). I could go on, but you get my drift.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Alan and LATG again, your coverage of the NY franchise saga has been far and away the most accurate and most informative of all I've seen on a subject of truly Mega- Byzantine complexity. And I do not at all see a NYRA bias in your reporting: You are a NY horse owner racing at NYRA tracks, you have been an equal opportunity basher, with NYRA taking it's hits when deserved, you know the history of NYRA's franchise and operations, the politics and media accounts of the past 5 years affecting NYRA and the public perception/mis-perception of NYRA, you have thoroughly examined all of the competing franchise bids and have concluded, as have I, that NYRA is still NY racing's best bet to serve the interests of the NY racing community as well as the people of NY State. The entire NY racing community should thank LATG's serious, indeed scholarly attempt to cover all sides of this story- now let's get the message to the triumverate in Albany that their big poker game has been fun but it's time to cash in the chips and get on with the business of NY racing. /S/Green Mtn Punter

Anonymous said...

Alan,
Bill Hammond is right. NYRA and their friends in the Governor's office and Excelsior are nasking for a larger vendor fee from the VLTs -- so if approved, education will get a smaller percentage.

As for the guy talking about the "parasitic OTB's" people forget that NYRA had a chance to control the OTB back in the beginning, but they didn;t want to dirty their Jockey Club hands.

BTW about 80% of NYRA total handle come from those off-site parasites.

They also had numerous opportunities to get the VLTs up and running -- every harness track in the state somehow managed to make the process work, but NYRA stopped paying property taxes, horsemen, vendors and their pension obligations. That's why the MGM deal never went through -- not Pataki, but because they couldn't get a sign-off from the Pension Guarantee Corporation. That where half of the $75million bail out has to go -- to pay their pension obligations.

Spitzer is a jerk who shoudl hav called both house back for a special session on racing IF HE CARED ABOUT RACING. BUt he doesn't and this deal stinks.

Anonymous said...

NYRA should be replaced entirely. There's no point in having an incompetent organization run the business a moment past midnight on january 1.

The facts are plain.

Declining attendance - Don't give me the BS about how the whole industry is suffering. California tracks like Santa Anita outdraw NYRA easily. Aqueduct is only half a racetrack now. Most of the grandstand is gutted. Oh yeah! they were supposed to get slots, before MGM pulled out (see "Scandle" below).

Handle is down, down, down. It's been declining steadily for several years. Read the New York racing board report - accurately!

Scandle - think "deferred prosecution."

Bankruptcy - They want a loan from the state so they can continue mismanaging.

What's the logical result for the future of racing in New York? Just as the governor. NYRA will be in charge for 30 more years! Actually, I wouldn't worry about the thirty years. They will be lucky to get past ten, when NYRA tracks are about as popular as the desolate harness tracks are now.

Anonymous said...

Allow me to rebut your rebuttal.

Attendance.

SPA beats DELMAR in the battle of premier summer meets, not only in attendance but quality racing(last year I grabbed the form to play a P6 carryover and it started on R3 because there were only 8 races, and three were Mdn Claimers).

You can not seriously compare SA to AQU, but even in the dead of winter AQU is the third most popular simulcast signal.

"Scandal"

Deferred prosecution, DONE, NYRA given a clean bill of health.

If you do not see the political motivation here I cannot force open eyes that wish to remain closed.

If three low level employees doing time for tax evasion is a "scandal" to you, then sorry about that. But it happened two COO's ago and is behind them.

IF you have other facts to back your scandalous accusation please provide, but I maintain it amounted to little in the grand scheme of things, certainly less than every one of their political critics have been accused of at one time or another.

Bankruptcy - again, in the real world they would have mortgaged the valuable real estate and would not be in bankruptcy.

This will come down to the land claim, and I believe NYRA will prevail.

To summarize, as has been written here and in the next blog entry, I would have supported a worthy bid to replace NYRA, unfortunately no such bidder came forth in a timely manner.

I am not thrilled with NYRA's past performances, but based on the lack of quality of the competitors loading in the gate next to them I am backing them reluctantly while hoping for future improvement.

Best of a bad bunch, and not as bad as put forth by the corrupt Albany spin machine.