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Monday, January 10, 2011

Post-OTB World By the Numbers

Went to the Big A on Saturday, and the place seemed fairly packed with an announced crowd of 5,201. And I definitely got the feeling there was something different about the place, and not just in the number of horseplayers in attendance.

It wasn't just me with that feeling, either. Wandering around the populous first floor, I overheard an aggrieved patron complain to a couple of security personnel that he was being harassed by another horseplayer. "I feel like I'm in an OTB! I feel like I'm in an OTB!" he repeated. Indeed, it seems rather obvious that NYRA is succeeding in their goal of luring a fair number of OTB regulars to the racetrack, aided by its free bus service from former parlors throughout the five boroughs. There was surely, let's just say, a harder-edge to the crowd. I sought refuge in some far corners up on the third floor.

According to figures released by NYRA, live attendance was up nearly 40% in December over the prior year, with average on-track handle from Dec 8 through Jan 6 up 16%. NYRA is making its most impressive gains however in its NYRA Rewards business, from which, remember, it receives its full on-track share of approximately 10%. That business is up 42% and 44% over the prior year for its internet and telephone betting components respectively in December; and the gains are substantially better than that thus far this month (114% and 80%). (Internet wagering, at an average of $110,000 a day in Dec, outpaces telephone wagering by around 41%.)

The new NYRA Rewards business is proving to be quite robust, with 2,434 new customers signed up since Dec 8. Those new bettors accounted for 34% of total phone bets and 23% of total online wagers....and those percentages are up to 44% and 36% in January. And the Belmont Cafe averaged just under $45,000 a day in December. According to NYRA: "This location is trending towards a $30 million annual handle number which would make it one of the largest simulcasting facilities in NY."

Overall though, total average handle was down 8% daily for all of December (including those days before OTB closed). If you consider the period starting Dec 8, when OTB did shut down, through Jan 6, the decline is 14% according to my calculations based on figures provided by NYRA. So the gains that have been made have not been nearly enough to compensate for the precipitous 50% decline in total intra-state off track handle that is the expected and most pronounced effect of the shutdown of NYC OTB. (Interestingly, interstate wagering is also down - around 8% - which indicates that a feared exodus of business to out-of-state ADW's has not materialized to this point.) Still, if you presume that most of this new on-track handle (at 10% for NYRA) is old OTB handle (at less than 3% to NYRA), the bottom line should be holding up reasonably well considering the circumstances. In addition, the return of the live signal to Channel 71, and the live streaming of NYRA races (now) and simulcast races (soon) should surely give the numbers a boost. As NYRA emphasized, the month of January should provide a more complete picture of the trends in handle.

With each passing day, the memory of the squalid OTB parlors becomes more of a distant memory (though do by all means check out the first floor on a Saturday if you're a real nostalgia buff). I would imagine that NYRA is looking forward to the opportunities of an OTB-less future rather than maintaining any of its own nostalgia for the past. It could very well be that we'll see Republicans in Albany propose a revival of NYC OTB in the context of providing relief to the upstate and Long Island regionals. That effort would surely attract staunch opposition by NYRA as it did late last year before the effort failed.

- Sharp-eyed reader Figless noticed that the 2011 NYRA calendars indicate that Belmont will adapt a Monmouth-style Friday through Sunday schedule for the month of July. But a highly reliable source tells me that this was a mistake. No word if gremlins from Governor Chris Christie's office was behind the error.


Anonymous said...

The takeout is so high (26%)that It doesn't surprise me that betting is down.

PTP said...

Bingo-bagno job by the Assn trying to get that lost handle over. I know we read constant spin the press when it comes to handle, but I think the spin is not spin this time. I don't know how anyone can't be happy with only a 14% drop considering the sheer volume of OTB money, when coupled with the habits of hard core bettors having to change.


Anonymous said...

Alan, NY GOP should be leading the way to put all OTB's into the hands of NYRA- where they should have been all along. Or am I wrong?

Why would NY GOP, supposedly the party of business, be supporting regional OTB's? For patronage? Not sure I get this one, Alan.

Over the 50+ years of NYRA running the thoroughbred tracks, hasn't it been the GOP that by and large has been most favorable to racing? You know, the gentleman- sportsman legacies, and all that?

Am I just blissfully unaware of what is going on in NY politics these days? Or,is it just your reflexive GOP bashing?

I, too, am heartened by the increase in attendance at The Big A since NYCOTB has been shuttered. Let's hope that the Albany crowd catches on and will allow this emerging model to work instead of killing it with patronage.

I am hopeful that Cuomo The Younger proves to be more friendly to racing than Cuomo The Elder. I don't ever recall seeing Mario at Saratoga during his years in Albany. Did he ever show up on Belmont Day? Ben Liebman ought to know the answers to these queries.
Is he a LATG reader?