As mentioned in the last post, I ran into NYRA's Communications Director Dan Silver at Aqueduct on Saturday, and he was one guy there who wasn't particularly happy. "Did you see Cuomo's statement?" No, I hadn't. The governor spoke to the editorial board at Newsday, and had some thoughts on NYRA, and the New York racing industry in general. You can see the video here. If you don't feel like watching, it goes something like this:
"We need a strategy on gaming. We don't know....we just have a hodgepodge. We're in a terrible situation with NYRA that we haven't figured out for years, where we subsidize on an ad hoc basis. This goes all the way back to Spitzer and his investigation of NYRA. We have OTB's that are in treacherous financial situations, all across the state. Where do they fit in? Then tribal casinos, then ruh-cinos, then failing tracks.We've only speculated about Cuomo's take on horse racing, because he hadn't had much to say on the topic. We figured it was probably indifferent, at best; hostile, at worst. Sounds like it leans towards the latter. But surely, it is ignorant.
There are no bandages here. This is fifteen years of decay! [italics mine, to denote inflections of alarm and consternation] Everywhere you look....there are massive, massive problems!
I think we need a comprehensive, overall gaming strategy. We need to figure out horses and NYRA. What is it worth to this state to have this industry? And how much do we subsidize them? And do we want to?"
Here we have the usual attack on NYRA - one loaded with the same untruths, hyperbole, and campaign-type soundbytes that we've heard from lesser politicians than the wildly-popular governor. As we know, the state is not directly providing any subsidies, ad hoc or otherwise, to NYRA, and financial support in the past has been in the form of loans or compensation for land. I'm not aware of any "terrible situation" at NYRA (nor the proliferation of "massive, massive problems" amongst the state's other racetracks) at the present time. In fact, thanks to slots revenues, things seem to be pretty good. And that investigation and settlement with then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is completely irrelevant at this point in time, which I'm sure Cuomo knows perfectly well. That's just Super-PAC negative advertising-type crap.
But this statement goes much further than just NYRA. It's an existential broadside directed at the industry as a whole in New York State. It comes from a governor who the industry certainly does not want to count amongst its enemies. The problem though is that it's just a sad fact that, while the state may not be directly subsidizing NYRA or the other tracks, one could certainly take the view of the sympathetic Newsday editorial which accompanied the video of the governor.
The horse racing industry has been propped up by funds from video lottery terminals, money that would be much better spent on public education.Indeed, the VLT money certainly could be spun as a subsidy in the sense that it's money that could be going to the state. Chris Christie eliminated subsidies in New Jersey that revert not to education, but to private casino companies; so Cuomo could make an even more potent argument here. Whatsmore, we've seen how the entities that would benefit from a reduction or elimination of slots money paid to tracks are lavishing cash on influential lobbyists and campaign contributions, and there's no underestimating the effect of such largesse on policy.
But maybe Cuomo was just blowing off steam. Oh, not about NYRA of course; we know that the administration has a bug up its ass for the association, for whatever reason. Cuomo can't snap his fingers and make NYRA go away, but his budget director Robert Megna chairs the Franchise Oversight Board that can recommend the revocation of the franchise under certain rather non-specific conditions.
But is a larger fight against the industry something that Cuomo really wants to take on? One might think that the governor has matters pending that are not only higher priority, but more logical and feasible politically as well. The industry may have declined in the state. But it still employs tens of thousands of people - 40,000 is the figure touted by the harness horsemen for the 'horse racing/agriculture' industry. Threatening even a fraction of those jobs isn't the way to go these days, especially from a governor trying to build a resume as a job creator even as he attacks budget deficits. And the industry does have supporters in both legislative parties....as well as inside Cuomo's administration - Bennett Liebman is the deputy secretary for Gaming and Racing. You would think that any threat to racing in Saratoga would be would be a non-starter in a legislature a half hour away. Do you think NBC Sports Network would have a weekly series featuring the Saratoga Farmers' Market? (Though that would be fine for the Head Chef.) And this is all besides the revenue generated for the state, both directly to the government, and in the form of peripheral economic activity.
In fact, if thoroughbred racing in New York would cease to be, it would have unpleasant repercussions nationwide. A guy with presidential ambitions might want to think about that. Still, it's hard to say what Cuomo is really up to. We all might be holding our breaths until we find out for sure.