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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Purposively Postulating

Matt Hegarty reported a new spin on the reasons behind the Aqueduct fiasco in the Form the other day.

Several racing officials said that they believed the legislature's delay in selecting an operator for the Aqueduct casino could be influenced by elections scheduled for later this year, citing the campaign contributions that casino and real-estate developers frequently make during election cycles. By delaying a decision, politicians can milk contributors until the election is over.
That's a harsh accusation which apparently was purposively planted in racing's Paper of Record by someone from the racing side. It speculates that public officials would hold the fiscal health of the state and the livelihood of thousands subordinate to the interests of their own political careers. And it hints at conspiracy and collusion as well. Sounds rather illegal, actually.

However, as I've said, given the lack of any reasonable explanation whatsoever why this is still dragging on without any resolution in sight, any speculation within the broadest parameters of reasonableness are perfectly fair. And I think that this particular postulation definitely qualifies as such.

- In his letter to Governor Paterson, Penn National's CEO Peter Carlino offered a theory of his own.
Since we are the high bidder, and have more experience in successfully developing and operating these types of integrated racing and gaming facilities in high tax jurisdictions, it would almost appear that some might be trying to find ways to not award this contract to Penn. I am sure that is not the case, but as you know, we have very little to go on except what we read in the press, or pick up in the halls in Albany.
I am sure that is not the case, heh heh, I'm so sure.

This reader pointed out that the letter implied that it has been the highest bidder all along...and that the claim is not true....at least according to the news reports that pegged the company's initial bid at $5 million upfront. In this post, I characterized it as a "token offer" to put them in the game in case the others self-destructed. And in a sense, that's kind of where the company is trying to position itself today, albeit with an additional $296 million in hand. Not that (all) of the others have self-destructed. But the two main contenders have connections that could make their selection problematic in appearance (at least). On the other hand, Penn National, in addition to touting its high bid and ample experience, is portraying itself as the "'safe choice' or compromise candidate," as an official of the company told me via email. "We have nothing in our closet regarding any NY connections."

As for the "slots in the box" argument, I guess I'm really not sure exactly what the phrase means. A reader brought up Finger Lakes in making the case against them. For one thing, a look at their weekly figures [PDF file] year over year doesn't seem to support the idea that its customers are going elsewhere. In addition, I looked at their website, and they have, in addition to slots, the usual dining and entertainment thing going on. So, if that's "slots in a box," isn't too the wildly successful facility at Yonkers, where, according to the OTB Task Force report, some $6 billion of the $11.5 billion wagered on VLT's in the state in 2009 was handled? My take is that the same format would certainly be successful at the Big A (many people assume that it will fare even better than Yonkers), and that it's of an appropriate scale for the neighborhood.

16 Comments:

Anonymous said...

The Yonkers model works for now but will eventually fail as the economy strengthens, unless it adapts and offers more than just "slots-in-a-box". Aqueduct needs to be more of a destination to survive and thrive for the next 20-30 years or so. I am sure that Albany knows this and will therefore choose wisely.

Anonymous said...

From "Out of Words" last night:

Anonymous said...

Rumor swirling around Albany is that they Leaders have reached an agreement and will announce their Aqueduct pick tomorrow.

8:59 PM

Alan, have you been able to ascertain if there is an update on this rumor? Is there any truth to it? I certainly hope so.

alan said...

>>Alan, have you been able to ascertain if there is an update on this rumor? Is there any truth to it?


I figured he/she was just joshin'! I've heard nothing, though you never know.

Anonymous said...

Alan
Lets hope that he/she is correct and a decision is imminent. We need good news.

El Angelo said...

My guess (I invite correction if I'm wrong) is that "slots in a box" means that it's simply a room with 3000 ringing machines, while people want more to make it an actual destination, like hotels, cafes, restaurants, clubs, bars, etc. Personally, I think none of that will matter as long as there are no table games, and even then, the thought of South Ozone Park as a destination is pretty funny.

Steve Zorn said...

Alan: have you been to Finger Lakes? It's pretty depressing. Scaling that up to Aqueduct size would be even more depressing than watching racing on a Thursday at the Big A in February. I agree with the comment that, for its long-run health, Aqueduct, not to mention the inevitable casino at Belmont, needs a lot more glitz and glamor.

jk said...

The Yonkers "slots in a box" is a modern space with new carpeting, lighting,plumbing and air conditioning.

Contrast this to the "racing in a dump" facility adjacent to the slots at Yonkers as well as the sad conditions at Belmont and the Big A.

Anonymous said...

alan, a few questions for you....

how much do you think the land that aqueduct sits on is worth being next to a major airport?

do you think having 2 racetracks within 8 miles of each other is necessary?

does Belmont Park need to be that.....BIG?

Would it be a good idea to build a new venue at Belmont, like how the new baseball parks have been built (in the adjacent parking lot) and have all the racing, entertainment, and casinos there for most of the year (with the saratoga season remaining the same)?

Anonymous said...

Belmont would need to be winterized and I understand this is a problem

alan said...

>>how much do you think the land that aqueduct sits on is worth being next to a major airport?

Honestly don't know. JFK has already expanded its parking into the old auxiliary lot, don't know how much more they need.

>>do you think having 2 racetracks within 8 miles of each other is necessary?

Logistically no. But I think we need the back and forth to keep the racing from becoming too monotonous. Besides, Belmont is too freaking cold, even in October.

>>does Belmont Park need to be that.....BIG?

Absolutely not.

Would it be a good idea to build a new venue at Belmont, like how the new baseball parks have been built (in the adjacent parking lot) and have all the racing, entertainment, and casinos there for most of the year (with the saratoga season remaining the same)?

>>see above re: monotony. As a horseplayer, I would find the mostly year-round racing around one turn to be tedious; and we get betting angles from the switch back and forth. It has been suggested though that a separate and smaller winter oval be constructed there. Wouldn't need too big of a facility to house the couple of thousand bettors who would show up.

El Angelo said...

I'm anti nostalgia in racing often, but a "new Belmont" would be tragic. Belmont is where Secretariat won by 31 lengths, where Ruffian died, and where we've had 30+ Triple Crown bids. To tear it down and start over because its maximum capacity is only used 1-3 times per year would be akin to tearing down Penn Station.

Anonymous said...

I agree with El Angelo. Part of the charm of racing is the visualization of historic performances. To view the hallowed grounds over which the great horses have competed is truly an experience for those with greater interest than simply what a quinella will pay.

The new Yankee Stadium is beautiful, but to feel Gehrig, Ruth, Mantle and Jackson requires a trip across the street. It's lost. Hopefully Belmont won't be.

Anonymous said...

Nary a whimper was heard when Yankee Stadium's demise was announced, if they want Belmont to come down it will.

To lose either was/will be a shame, but money talks.

But I think if push comes to shove they will keep the building and convert the inner turf course to AWT.

Only the clubhouse would need to be winterized.

steve in nc said...

Anon 3:35's comments ring true to me. They'll put up a few plaques if need be. I'm not nostalgic, but I'd hate to lose AQs great sightlines, but...

Belmont makes much more sense as a destination from the transit perspective (presuming they'd restore and upgrade the LIRR service if there were a casino), and in a more attractive locale. So if there is to be just one track, with a casino, it will have the best chance of long-term success at Belmont.

If NYRA can get some of the proceeds of selling AQ, it could invest in redoing the tracks entirely as well as winterizing the grandstand. I'd vote for an arrangement like Woodbine's with the turf course on the outside, and dirt on the inside. Would there need to be an additional winterized dirt track or could they use a winter track year round? Anon does propose the cheapest solution.

The one problem would be barn space. I've read that closing either track would really squeeze the stall space.

Anonymous said...

Tom Precious artile just out announcing Gov to choose AEG:

AEG the Choice For Aqueduct Casino?

http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/55101/aeg-the-choice-for-aqueduct-casino

alan said...

>>Tom Precious article just out announcing Gov to choose AEG:

We'll see:

"But sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deal is far from done. For starters, there are some doubts whether Paterson indeed wants AEG or if he is trying to push the AEG bid in hopes someone else—namely the Assembly—shoots it down. Were that to happen, then the first choice of Paterson and some of his top advisors, SL Green, could then be pushed to the top, one theory goes."