Quite a successful beginning to the Yonkers-France experiment on Sunday morning. Five full-field mile and a quarter trotting races attracted European handle, through the French betting conglomerate PMU, of nearly 1.4 million Euros. That is well above and beyond the projected 1 million Euros, and it translates to around $1.75 million USD. As we mentioned in this post, the 13 race card on Yonkers Trot/Int'l Preview night did a little over $1.1 million. So...sensationnel! Not only that, I'm told that there were some transmission kinks in the first race that kept the handle down on that race, and that $2 million is a possibility for this weekend. The results had something for everyone - couple of favorites (with nice returns for exacta-wheelers) a medium 9-1 shot, and a bomb.
Domestic handle exceeded expectations too. Horsemen were concerned about how the card would measure up against the Tuesday night session that the Sunday card replaced; but the nearly half million bucks wagered in the U.S. was, again as I'm informed by an informative source, comparable to a "bad Tuesday night." (And that's with no triples in the first two races.)
So, let's assume that the cut of the overseas handle that is due to Yonkers made it a pretty good Tuesday night on a Sunday morning/afternoon. And, again, the big potential here is in commingled betting pools. That's a whole new world....literally. Not only would the track and horsemen get their direct share of the total wagering, one would have to expect that more domestic bettors would be attracted by pools with the kind of liquidity that we just don't see in harness racing (or in most thoroughbred racing outside of the major markets, for that matter). And as far as the early post time here in order to better coincide with prime European time, maybe 11 AM on Sunday isn't such a bad time after all; especially once the football season is over. Might be a good time for holidays as well; we've spoken in the past how NYRA and other tracks run stakes races late on days such as Memorial Day and the 4th of July, when they might very well be better off starting around 11 and finishing up by 3 or 4 so that people can go home and have their BBQs.
Can't really say enough about this collaborative effort between horsemen and track management. Here's a situation in which the racing is well-supported by VLT's, yet the parties have joined forces to work towards increasing handle in an innovative and creative way. I'm not aware of any other similar initiative at a racetracks with slots subsidies. With the coming of more saturation of the casinos market, and the states' inevitable clawback of slots money earmarked for racing, seems to me that other tracks would be well-advised to take a hard look at what Yonkers is doing.
Another, though different, example of horsemen and track management working together has taken place at Monticello. You may recall that we wrote earlier this year about the dispute regarding the provision in the casino law which caps VLT slots revenue to purses at 2013 levels which led to the horsemen blocking the simulcast signal. The horsemen later discontinued their action, and the two sides got down to some good faith bargaining which resulted in an extremely creative solution. Should Empire Resorts, the track owner, get a casino license for their Adelaar project at the Concord, it will guarantee that racing will continue at Monticello for nine years. The horsemen will receive one million shares in the company stock (NYNY...how did they manage to get the NYNY ticker symbol?) and a warrant which gives them the option to purchase an additional 300,000 shares under certain conditions related to company projections and share price. Over the life of the contract, the horsemen are free to sell the shares, with the proceeds going to the purse fund. Obviously, they will have a strong interest in the share price faring well....though if the shares decline below a certain price, the horsemen are still guaranteed a lump sum payment at the end of the contract term.
So, the horsemen will indeed get more money based on the performance of the casino, though indirectly via the stock price and not based on any direct percentage of casino revenues; and management doesn't have to pay anything out of their pockets unless the casino underperforms (or if other factors contribute to a decline in the share price). So, no precedent is set as far as paying money out to racing from casino revenues; but a precedent is set in terms of horsemen getting purse money above and beyond the limit set by the casino law. Monticello horsemen association president Alan Schwartz praised and thanked his members for their sacrifice - as should all NY horsemen of either breed!
I want to thank each and every member of the Association for the sacrifices they made during the several long months of pain, when it wasn't clear if we would live to see another day of racing. Because of the courage the Monticello horsemen displayed in overwhelmingly supporting the Board, we have achieved a much better future than Albany provided us. In addition to our legal and accounting team, special thanks go out to Peter Gerry, who volunteered his time, effort and expertise during the delicate and extremely complex negotiations involving the acquisition of the stock and warrants, so as to ensure that a genuine economic benefit was actually realized.....While we were sometimes criticized for the stances we took, the financial reward now finally achieved for our horsemen was our only goal. It would not have been necessary if legislation was more thoughtfully considered in the first instance.So, although a far more adversarial situation than at Yonkers, here again is an example of horsemen, track management, and the Gaming Commission (credited by Empire with helping to mediate the dispute) cooperating in coming up with a plan - one of sheer survival for horsemen in this case as opposed to that of further prosperity at Yonkers.