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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

That Bad?

Perhaps you saw this piece in the Times on Tuesday; a background piece for the Big A racino and the general ills of an industry currently depending on slots for its survival. It's the bleak scenario that we're all familiar with, but it's always sobering to see it in print.

Despite the introduction of slots, the revival of horse racing as a spectator sport has not come. The purses are bigger and the horses are considered better, but the cars in the parking lots at most tracks belong to patrons of the slot parlors. Gamblers wagered $2.2 billion on New York horse races last year, 30 percent less than in 2003, when inflation is taken into account, Mr. Liebman said. The slot machines took in $12 billion.

“You’re propping up a dying industry,” said Richard McGowan, a Jesuit priest and an economics professor at Boston College who specializes in gambling. “The only thing that will revive horse racing is if you banned all other forms of gambling, and that’s not going to happen.” [NYT]
My first reaction to that last quote was: "Bite me, Dick." But then I was you think he's right about that? That racing could revive only in the absence of all other gambling; it's that bad? Jeez, you look at those numbers - $2.2 billion vs $12 billion for slots - and consider that slots itself is at the low end of the totem pole as far as casino games go. Vibrant tracks which still draw crowds, like Saratoga, Del Mar, Oaklawn, and Keeneland, always provide hope, but not for the grind of day-to-day racing which the industry as currently structured needs to survive.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is still reviewing Genting's bid to build and operate the Aqueduct racino; both he and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli need to give their final approval. I have it on good authority that Cuomo, the presumptive governor of New York come January, wants absolutely nothing to do with this once he assumes office; so I assume his approval is forthcoming. With the desperate GOP candidate Rick Lazio doing one of the things that Republican politicians do best - fanning the flames of fear and hatred; in this case over the proposed Muslim community center a couple of developed city blocks north of Ground Zero - Cuomo might be taking time to make sure that Genting has no ties to any terror-sympathizing imans (y'know, the kind employed by the State Department) or shareholders of FOX.

Paul Post reported in the Saratogian that DiNapoli's office, which will look into the bidding process and the contract itself, has already "reached out to Lottery with some preliminary concerns." The Comptroller is up for re-election himself, so he'll surely provide at least the appearance of a thorough probe. But surely, the time has finally come. Right?

- As you may know, Governor Paterson is in serious legal jeopardy over his testimony regarding the World Series tickets he obtained last October. I read the report by former Chief Judge Judith Kaye which recommends that Albany DA David Soares consider criminal charges of perjury. Ms. Kaye uses testimony from various parties to make a clear case that the Governor initially had no intention of paying for the two tickets for his son and his son's friend, and then, once he decided to do so, had the check backdated in a clumsy attempt to make it appear that he made out the check hiself and brought it to the game with him.

Problem is that the investigators brought in a handwriting expert who testified that the check was written out by Paterson's aide David Johnson (who brilliantly made it out to his contact at the Yankees rather than to the team.....not very bright lights shining up in the Executive Mansion). Indeed, some people are surprised that Ms. Kaye referred the matter rather than recommending prosecution herself.

I've always defended Paterson and his performance as governor, and pointed out when he was not getting a fair shake, like during the Senate appointment circus, or with the vicious skits on SNL. And I've snickered more than snapped at his occasional misstatements. Even here, c'mon, you'd think that the governor of New York could score a few free tickets for the Yankees in the World Series; I mean, shouldn't that be a fringe benefit of the job? In fact, if the Post's Fred Dicker hadn't deemed it newsworthy, then it quite possibly would have passed without notice. The report states that, at the beginning of last season, Paterson and his party attended the first games at Citifield and the new Stadium, and didn't pay. How come nobody said anything about that?

But the (alleged) lying here is just ridiculous...and so unnecessary. Paterson stepped into this situation just as surely as Roger Clemens did into his. He could have simply said yes, I was wrong, and indeed I've now paid for the tickets, and I think that would have been that, especially given his lame duck status. It's not like he's trying to protect a great legacy and go to Cooperstown or anything.


DiscreetPicks said...

- and consider that slots itself is at the low end of the totem pole as far as casino games go.

Are you kidding, Alan? Slots are the casino insustry's bread-and-butter. Have been for a long time.

Anonymous said...

Patterson lying and doing inept things? When did you figure it out? You are a bigger buffoon than he is.

Anonymous said...

do you think he's right about that?

No, I don't think he's right. But in the meantime lets just keep raising purses. Guys like Steve Zorn deserve to make an honest living in this dying game. Everyone knows that purses are all that matters and everything else is irrelevant.

I'm no historian but I can't remember any time in the history of horse racing where all the owners were covering their racing expenses purely on their horses earnings. It's never happened. But if we make it happen then the game will be self sustaining. We'll run 500 tracks, 6 days a week. We'll breed hundreds of thousands of horses...and they'll all run for that godlen slots goose.

Way to go guys.

Meanwhile the $2 bettor has long gone home.

alan said...

>>Patterson lying and doing inept things? When did you figure it out? You are a bigger buffoon than he is.

Perhaps, but at least I can spell his name right, jerkoff.

suebroux said...

>>the revival of horse racing as a spectator sport has not come.

I wonder if this observation in takes into account that horseplayers and "spectators" have the luxury of watching and wagering on races in the comfort of their own home - sitting in their underwear and drinking their own cheap beer. Who needs to go to the track and fight for parking spots amidst all those slot players?

alan said...

>>Are you kidding, Alan? Slots are the casino insustry's bread-and-butter. Have been for a long time.

Oh. :-| Shows you how much I know about casinos. But, if that's the case, why is everyone so desperate to get table games around here?

Anonymous said...

A Jesuit priest who specializes in gambling? That should be a SNL skit!

Alan, you need to thicken up your skin a bit. "Vicious" SNL skits about Paterson? Come on. Every one is fair game on that show. Remember Bill Clinton's campaign stop @ McDonald's skit?

Lighten up a bit.

alan said...

>>Lighten up a bit.

Moi? :-0 I've discussed this in detail before, those skits were beyond the pale in my opinion. Nothing funny about his disability, and, given how very little people know about their local politicians in general, I think they had a real effect on the public's perception on him, far beyond that of a figure like Clinton. (Even if, in the end, perhaps that perception was closer to reality than I originally thought!)

Anonymous said...

Thoroughbred horse races are sporting events, not gambling opportunities. If the current racing industry was doing it right then other sports would copy them. If the NFL copied them, it would cost five bucks to get into the superbowl - and they'd offer a college game, a high school game, and a pop-warner game on the undercard to provide more betting opportunities. A sporting event stands a chance of competing against other sporting events; gambling competition with casinos and the internet is suicide. Suicide is the current plan of the racing industry.

jk said...

Paterson lied about Yankee tix.

A State Senator provided confidential bidding info to his buddies at AEG.

Joe Bruno is found guilty of abusing his office.

Gov Spitzer resigns in disgrace.

State Comptroller Hevesi resigns in disgrace.

Plenty of drama at the top levels of State govt. The pattern of behavior is much more disturbing than any one incident.

Figless said...

Every one of these doom and gloom articles about the "dying" racing industry fail to mention total handle figures, instead relying solely on attendance to make their argument.

They also fail to mention the unfair competition from Government, which no other sport endures, and the unfair tax formula (taxed on gross handle).

Doubt there is another industry facing those obstacles that could prosper.

Of course there are problems, the biggest of which is the lack of a united voice and spokesman to counter these articles.

jk said...

NYRA is competing against the slots.

This is the key part of the NYT article:

"New York requires the casinos to pay out in winnings 91.5 cents of every dollar gambled."

This is a takeout of 8.5%. I am paying 26% on my multi-race wagers.

At the casino I get free admission, parking and a modern facility.

At NYRA I get nickled and dimed for parking/admission and I get aging facilities.

I get a 1% rebate if I bet on NYRA races at Mohegan Sun but I get no rebate if I bet directly with NYRA.

The NYRA product is priced to high and the facilities are a cut below what a casino offers.

Mr. Hayward said as much on CNBC last week. He did not say much on what he plans to do about it.

jk said...

A Queens man took a $29k payout from a OTB in cash and was robbed at gunpoint walking to his car.

Belmontbred said...

Bravo Alan! The SNL skits were outrageous.

Anonymous said...

Not one track has reduced takeout after they got Slots.

Nothing for the horseplayer I guess.

Democrat Governor Paterson is in serious legal jeopardy.

You always have to watch the people in power.

SaratogaSpa said...

Gambling on Horse racing will always exist in some form. But it is a thinking mans (or woman) game.

The problem is we now have a less educated public who prefers the simplicity of slots

jk said...

The "less educated" public prefers modern facilities with carpeting, air conditioning and a competitive rewards program. Maybe these less educated people are the smart ones.

You will see it at the Big A when the slot players are enjoying their spanking new facility while the horse bettors are hanging out in the rust bucket next door.

Anonymous said...


I find that hilarious, and so true. Nice comment.

A friend of mine goes to casino's now, when he used to just go to the racebook. Because one day he got a players reward card, but a few hund in a slot machine, then went to craps and played some "pass" for awhile with a couple hundred. That same week he plays something like $7000 in a racebook.

Two weeks later he gets an email offering him a free stay and meals for three nights - all because of a little slot and craps play.

5% or so takeout and a free room and meals. Versus 31% takeout at Philly park and a "blank you very much"

When slots are at AQU these players will get the same deal. The purses will be up and things will be rolling. But the horseplayer will be left out like her or she usually is.

This industry is freaking hilarious.

Figless said...

Read a nice article in the print edition of thoroughbred times this morning (I think I am their last subsriber, thinner and thinner every week) about Remington Park.

Purchased by Native Americans for the VLT rigths, horsemen feared the racing side would be ignored as it is in most Racinos.

Instead, they pumped a ton of money into renovations and it is like brand new, and attracting some of the folks from the VLT side.

I ignored it in my above post, but the dilapidated plants have a lot to do with the horrible retention rate. You can run a promo to get someone to the track, but they need to enjoy themselves when there.

Many sports have struggled at times, and most have recently revitalized themselves by investing in new modern plants, with multiple attractions other than the game at hand. Even minor league baseball has staged a major league comeback. The plant has become a part of, or in the case of small market teams, the entrire attraction.

Of course most of these new plants have been built with public financing, but government refuses to finance racing (gambling, I am sure) and racing operators do not have the capital to modernize themselves.

Sadly, the only one in racing that seems to understand this is Stronarch, who has good intentions but then manages to screw up the implementation every time. Gulfstream is beautiful, but not racing fan freindly.

In any case, this issue needs to be included in any discussion of racings woes.

Perhaps Genting will be true to their word and incorporate the racing plant into their renovations, and NYRA will have money earmarked for the same, although somehow I doubt downstate will get much of the attention.

We can dream.

Figless said...

For example, as part of the Big A VLT process, they should raze the old grandstand, build a large, modern, simulcast facility, modern office space with a call center, a couple of casual sports bars, and a small boutique style grandstand, partially enclosed with perhaps a NY Racing museum.

I would also apply for instant racing, which should qualify under the state constitution as pari mutuel gaming.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Paterson's real disability is lying and taking things, that most everybody else pays for. His character flaws are too disturbing and show his level of self-entitlement, that anyone with a physical disability would be appalled by. In his case, Paterson is a "disabled person", who just happens to be legally blind. In comparison to his character issues, there is nothing wrong with his eyesight.