NYRA has a plan to get to profitability without VLT money which involves increases in track admission and parking, a hike in simulcast fees (we could perhaps see some simulcast interruptions in response to that), closing the Aqueduct training facilities during non-racing months, and reducing legal and other expenses. I think this is a worthy goal; but surely not because the governor or Robert Megna or David Skorton want it. Nor because I think there is any particular or compelling reason why NYRA should have to do so, as opposed to all the other New York racinos; and nor do I think that NYRA is any immediate danger of having the VLT money stripped away.
It's just good business practice, for one thing, especially considering the uncertain future with the pending arrival of full-scale casinos. And it would put NYRA in a far better business and ethical standing down the road to argue for VLT money to continue, should it ever get to that point. It could then assert that its business stands on its own, and that the VLT revenue, rather than being a subsidy to keep an unprofitable business afloat, is instead an investment to keep purses and breeding incentives high, which, in turn, generates revenue and jobs for the state.
Unfortunately, it has ramifications more profound that a few bucks extra in admission charges: The section on the new budget in the agenda for Wednesday's board meeting [large pdf file] refers ominously to unspecified "headcount adjustments."
The new admission fees - $5 for the grandstand and $8 for the clubhouse (a $3 increase, except for Saratoga grandstand, which goes up by $2) - still would leave NYRA below, for example, Del Mar ($6 / $10, though reduced for the regular Diamond Club members....like me!) Still, it immediately attracted some criticism in Twitter-land as short-sighted and in contrast to free admission at casinos. Personally, I've always thought it a little odd that people who come to the track to bet copious amounts of money on dumb animals would quibble over a few dollars in admission or the price of a Form. Just doesn't seem that consequential in the scheme of things. (Though it will be more so at Belmont regarding parking since many Saratoga fans park off track.) Except for the Saratoga grandstand, which went up a buck, I don't recall prices ever going up in all the years I've been going. So I hardly think that it's unreasonable.
NYRA is not estimating how much revenue the admission increase will generate.
“Additional revenue from an admission increase is uncertain at this time,” [Dir of Communications Eric] Wing said. “It would obviously be a function of attendance.” [Saratogian]But I would think that anyone who would not go to the track specifically over a relatively small increase in overhead would not be high handle types that would significantly hurt business.....and chances are they would maybe bet via NYRA Rewards at home.
Now, having said all that, I would prefer a different approach, and note, hardly with any surprise, that the concept of NYRA-opearted off-track teletheaters to fill the void left by NYC OTB is not mentioned in the board meeting document. That was a main priority of the former CEO Charles Hayward; and it was his concern over navigating the necessary political processes that led to the takeout snafu that unfortunately cost him his job. Hayward is a racing guy. Chris Kay is not. But Kay knows from his experience consulting for Universal Studios Parks, where the admission is $42, that entry fees to the tracks are relatively cheap. And he knows his bottom lines.
According to the agenda, the Longshots simulcast bar on the second floor of the Big A is now slated to open in April, right around the time that racing shifts to Belmont on May 1, thank you very much. The facility does figure into NYRA's revenues projections; the forecast is that it will generate an additional $9 million in handle, broken down, quite specifically, as follows: $2.2 million during Belmont spring, $1.5 million during Saratoga, $1.3 million during Belmont fall, and $4 million during Aqueduct. Not sure exactly what they are basing those rather precise estimates on! I mean, people already go to Aqueduct for simulcasting and live racing. Sure, there will be a (hopefully) really nice cool new place to hang out, drink, and bet. Whether people will now make the trip to Aqueduct specifically to go there, or whether those who already go will bet more because of it, remains to be seen. Maybe they're planning cheap drinks with generous pours and other incentives to get horseplayers to part with their money! (But remember, they'll be those young women that Mr. Kay mentioned to distract the horseplaying men!)
A change in the racing schedule for Aqueduct this winter - dark days will be Tuesdays and Wednesdays from Jan through March, and there will be racing only four days a week in February (Friday - Monday). They can't be loving that at Parx, or the other tracks that race on Mondays.
On page 20 of the agenda, NYRA details coming patron area improvements at the three tracks. It curiously claims that "a significant amount of improvements were made in 2013" at Aqueduct. I'd like to know what those are other than the murals on the first floor,
- Over at the TimeformUS blog, I posted about the Remsen, and the slow early pace that is considered to be "peculiar" in this country. Mike Watchmaker wrote disapprovingly at the Form of such races that are run in the European style of [gasp - ed.] slow early, fast late. As we know, most racing people here seem to love high early speed and the spectacle of exhausted opponents digging deep for a little extra to prevail in the late going, like heavyweights laboring in the 12th round. Perhaps it's the fact that I started out as a harness guy that it all seems counter-intuitive to me. The Remsen was an extreme case to be sure, but I personally prefer the sight of fresher horses going faster in the stretch.
And it just might be easier on the horses and better for their well-being too. Everybody is just so concerned about that nowadays, but not of course when they would have to sacrifice their own beloved and hallowed (and dumb?) traditions. And surely not if they perceive that it would effect their ability to handicap effectively.
On that topic, in this spot and at this time, I was planning to pivot to address my assertion in the prior post that the Times' reporting on 24 horse deaths a week was BS. However, that will now have to wait. I've always been open to disagreement and willing to correct any errors or misstatements. But I don't answer to anyone or operate on anybody's timetable but my own - even (especially) the New York Times - as to when I post on this blog. I do so whenever I have a chance, which is unfortunately far less than in the past, and more unlikely when I have my kids and family in town for an extended holiday weekend. Don't worry though, I'll surely get to it in a far shorter time frame than the 20 months it took the Times to address their misinformation on WMD's in Iraq.