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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Another Writer Gone Awry about NYRA

Michael Powell is the proprietor of the Gotham column which appears regularly in the New York City section in the New York Times, and he does a fantastic job of highlighting matters of inequality, injustice (and specifically with tales of abuse of authority by the NYC police that you don't read in the news), and political hypocrisy in our great city.

And that's exactly the direction in which his column Where Bettors Go to Lose, Some Doubts seemed to be headed.

 It was early Monday morning, and I was inside the Resort World Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack, which looks like an airport departure lounge mated with a pinball machine. There were no smiles and no talk, and eye contact was reserved for the slot machine. 
Our governor has developed a pronounced taste for gambling’s revenue streams. He has put a constitutional referendum on the ballot to allow full-fledged casinos, proposing to raise money for schools by letting the industry run its fingers through the pockets of working New Yorkers.

However, then it took a turn into an area with which Mr. Powell is obviously not familiar, and the resulting misinformation is all too well familiar to us, and not only from the New York Times.
It’s intriguing to examine the effort to reform a related gambling enterprise: the New York Racing Association, now controlled by the state. This industry, which oversees racetracks, fell into a despond of corruption a decade back, with the drugging of horses and rigging of bets. Federal prosecutors circled.
Oh, really?  I think the only accurate element of this assertion is the timing.  Indeed, it was a decade ago that this "industry," NYRA, was indicted on fraud and conspiracy charges.  Except that it had absolutely nothing to do with "drugging of horses and rigging of bets."  It was instead a tax evasion and money laundering scheme (amongst other transgressions) by some mutuel clerks, and NYRA management which turned a blind eye.  Not to minimize those allegations at all.....but somebody who doesn't know better would think that New York tracks were a circus of hypodermics and horsemen conspiring to determine the results of races in advance.

Of course, different people have different opinions as to the level of drug use at NYRA tracks, then and now.  While that has recently risen to the level of state intervention, it's surely never attracted the attention of federal prosecutors.   However, amidst all of the invective, accurate or not, we've heard directed at NYRA over this last decade by politicians and by newspaper editorial boards, I do not recall seeing nor hearing accusations regarding fixed races, which is what I can only assume this writer is saying when he refers to "rigging of bets" since he obviously doesn't know enough about the game to imply anything more complex than that.  Don't think we've even heard that from his NY Times colleague Joe Drape.  So I have no clue as to where he's getting that.  All I know is that it's false, and, given the profound nature of the accusation, it seems almost libelous.

Powell then returns to territory more familiar to him, though still including factual errors and significant omissions.  He points out that Governor Cuomo appointed two "family retainers" to the NYRA Board; but one of those he named, Michael Del Giudice, was actually appointed by Sheldon Silver.  The other, Vincent Tese, is, according to the writer, an "executive compensation guru" with a history of a laissez-faire attitude towards excessive corporate salaries.
Inevitably, Mr. Tese suggested that the racing association’s chief executive needed more money. He recommended $300,000 with a $250,000 incentive pay package, much more than the current chief executive made at his last job.
What is not mentioned here is that the previous NYRA CEO made well more than that as a base salary, and that this compensation, which was ultimately agreed to, was able to attract only an industry novice who will, we're told, be hiring a more experienced hand, no doubt also at a six figure salary.  Which will probably make the whole exercise a wash in terms of salary.

 - Saw a discussion on Twitter yesterday prompted by Ray Paulick with respect to this article from his website in which a horse owner suggests, among other things, that bettors should boycott tracks which they feel are not doing enough to stop cheating.  Unsurprisingly, that prompted some to speculate that that might eliminate all tracks from their betting!  Indeed, we know there's probably some kind of cheating going on at every track (and every stadium, and every Olympic event, and every day in the stock market, and....); and the purely subjective question of which tracks are "doing enough" could surely lead the most principled amongst us to abandon the game altogether.

I dunno....seems to me that if one adopted that philosophy, then they wouldn't be doing much of anything.  Do you think there's a single stock brokerage company at which there is no cheating, and that those companies are all "doing enough" to stop it?  Is every professional (or non-professional) sports league (or association) "doing enough" to stop the cheating which occurs in each and every one of them? Do you think that your health or property insurers are all totally on the up-and-up and conducting their business solely with you in mind, and so as not to cheat you as they claim in their advertising?  How about your bank?  Hell, if I adhered to these standards, guess I would even stop going to my rock shows, since the promoters and the bands regularly cheat the public by withholding tickets to create the illusion that the shows are sold out, create demand that isn't there, and then rip off unsuspecting suckers by selling them on StubHub for twice the face value.

Not saying that tracks shouldn't be doing their utmost to uphold the integrity of the races, of course.  But, as I've said many times before, man, it's only a game (for me anyway).  Don't take this the wrong way, but I think if someone can't find some trainer who he/she feels is overachieving, place a bet, and then smile and yell "JUICE" as the horse is coming down the stretch, then I think that maybe they should find another way to spend their time.  This industry has to get over this current wave of self-flagellation prompted in large part it seems by the stories in the Times.  I don't really see why it feels the need to hold itself to a far higher standard than any other endeavor that involves money and which therefore inevitably and unavoidably includes a small minority that is cheating to gain an edge.   Jeez, I read my Twitter feed and it seems like half the racing content is directed towards some kind of complaining or hand-wringing over something.  Makes me wonder sometimes if anyone is having fun doing this anymore.


Sal Carcia said...

Well, I am glad you cleared that up. I just thought old age was setting in. The NYTimes article was absolutely inaccurate, confusing and pointless.

What the heck? The NY racing community has allowed itself to be pushed around for ten years and it resulted in a total loss of the franchise. Sad to think that everyone in the industry is too busy being selfish to even realze it. The outcome will not be a good one. It's not a matter of being pessimistic. The fundamentals are there. The ultimate leader hates the industry and his appointees are skilled and geared to sell the franchise for land developement.

Figless said...

I hope you (or someone) pointed out the inaccuracies in the comments section of that column, which I refuse to link.

Excellent point about the self flagellation. You are correct that no other industry acknowledges their faults more than racing, without receiving one iota of credit for the positive steps it has taken which far exceed that of most other sports and industries.

There is a LOT of money involved, there will always be someone looking for an edge, and yes, testing and more importantly penalties could be more stringent, but the situation is no worse than any other industry.

The only difference, and its significant in the eyes of the public, is that defenseless animals are being mistreated in the process and that is a tough hurdle to overcome.

The industry needs to do a better job of publicizing the positive steps it has taken, and it needs to take even stronger action, but it really needs to defend itself when articles like this are written.

Unfortunately, struggling industries lack the resources to hire top PR firms to fire back at each attack, like the NFL would for instance.

And as Sal states, when the ultimate leader hates the industry it leads it portends a bad outcome.

jk said...

He might be referring to the A One Rocket episode regarding the drugged horses and rigged bets.

The big story remains unreported. The State is bleeding the industry dry. Two bankrupt otb's and striping the land from nyra. I'd live to see the Times report where all of that money has gone.

Figless said...

jk, don't you know it went to "education", just like all the lottery dare you question the Albany's dedication to the kids....