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Monday, June 30, 2014

East Greenbush Town Board Casino Meetings Notes Provide Insight

Here is the "lengthy petition," as appropriately described by the Albany Times-Union, filed by the Save East Greenbush group against the Town Board, the Gaming Commission, and those planning/hoping to construct a casino there.

For those of you who don't actually plan on reading through the 65 pages, meaning just about everyone (we're down in Florida where it's really hot and I have some time on my hands), the complaint basically boils down to two items:

 - The Special Meeting during which the Town Board adopted the resolution supporting the casino was held in violation of the Open Meetings Law, which states that "it is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and be able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy."

Whew, well that makes just about every decision coming out of the room in Albany, where the three or four white men ultimately determine matters pertaining to budget and law, illegal!  But in this case, the petitioners contend that the room in which the meeting was held was simply too small, causing some 80 people to be turned away.  They point out that two prior meetings were held in schools that had plenty of room, implying that there was a sinister purpose to this particular meeting being held in a room with limited space.  And that the town scheduled it there "despite having been put on notice numerous times that the facility was clearly inadequate."

 - The Town adopted the resolution in favor of the casino without an environmental review having been conducted. That is in "blatant" violation, the complaint contends, of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), which specifically states that its "basic purpose" is to "incorporate the consideration of environmental factors into the existing planning, review, and decision-making the earliest possible time."  With the emphasis on the italicized phrase, which is repeated throughout.  The complaint cites specific instances of activity - meetings and resolutions - to demonstrate that the earliest possible time is long past, and that the resolution is therefore invalid. "The only way to accomplish the stated intent of SEQRA is to assure that the potential environmental, social , and economic impacts of a proposed action are completed and reviewed prior to any significant authorization being granted for a specific proposal."  And yes, the previously mentioned nearby girls scouts camp is specified as a potential social impact.

There you have it, in a nutshell.

The real entertainment value of this document however comes in Exhibit B, a collection of handwritten notes by a Town Board member about various meetings amongst themselves and with members of the development team.  They are included in the petition to make the point that crucial deliberations and discussions regarding the casino bid took place behind closed doors  and out of the public view - " these private meetings formulated and designed a plan for marketing, gaining support and the development of the Casino Site" - thereby bolstering their case that the process was in violation of the Open Meetings Law.  Sprinkled throughout the notes are references to "Feathers," or "JF;" so town officials were in direct contact with James Featherstonhaugh himself, the former NYGA president leading the bids for Saratoga Raceway and Casino.

The notes provide an interesting look into just what was on the minds of the town officials working in favor of the casino.  And what was mostly on their minds was selling the idea to the public, press, and politicians, downplaying any negatives, and publicizing the $5.7 million in host fees that the Town stands to earn (though at one point, someone wonders just where that number came from).  Here are a few highlights:

On April 23, it's noted that Feathers called legislators including State Senators Roy McDonald (to whose campaign Feathers, NYGA, and Saratoga harness all contributed in 2012) and Kathleen Marchione, and Assemblyman Steven McLaughlin.  A note about a power point presentation to the town refers to "Morgan Hook-PR" from the prominent lobbying firm SKDKnickerbocker, noting that the PR team will "take the heat." Emphasized with a star is a notation to "DO just one" of these - "any more continues to promote 'negative' side more than anything."  Discussing a mailer about to go out, reporters are singled out: Rex Smith of the Troy Record is "good;" Jordan [Carleo-Evangelist] of the Times-Union is a "good guy," and [Chris] Churchill of that paper is an "advocate."

On May 5, it's noted that their Facebook page received 108 likes, as certain members of the Business Alliance are considered to speak in support of the casino at the next public meeting.

On May 9, Feathers believes that revenue estimates "are low/conservative, has potential to be more." And he met with school Superintendent Nagel [sic, Angela Nagle].  There's a note about a jobs quota for local employees.

Feathers goes over the negatives - "a lot of what ppl worry abt are myths."  Crime - "Non-threat in casino - high security." (Of course, that doesn't address crime in surrounding areas.)  Addicted gamblers - "Biggest type of addict is sports gamblers."  (Take that, you sports gamblers!) Traffic - "Bigger concern for Feathers, heavy traffic deters return guests."  (Of course, no concern about the effect on the community, only on casino business.)

As time goes on, the notes do reflect some concern about SEQRA, and the question of what happens if there's a lawsuit.  The Board seems to think that the clock on SEQRA does not start until the $50 million licensing fee is submitted. "Article 78 doesn't say stop unless they get an injunction, but that process is expensive and difficult to do."  Obviously, the Save East Greenbush group is giving that a shot.

There are also minutes from a Town Board meeting in which three members speak out in favor of the project, albeit with some reservations - one member concedes that he voted against the referendum.  Another cites a quote by Charles Kettering: "The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress."  That's funny, because I also saw that exact quote cited the other day by Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia in response to his company's crushing loss in the Supreme Court.  Save East Greenbush is hoping that their Town Board suffers a similar judicial setback.

Friday, June 27, 2014

We Love a (Casino) Parade!

Everyone loves a parade, and a parade there will be, in Amsterdam, NY on July 1.  No, it is not an early Independence Day celebration.  But, rather, it's in support of a casino there.  That's right.  Don't know if there will be a float in the form of a giant roulette wheel.  But there you go.

"The more we can get out the message that we are a community that overwhelmingly supports this will help us in the long run as we move along in the application process," Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said. [The Recorder, strictly subscription only, not even a few free articles a month, but I cleverly took a screenshot in the split second it appeared on screen before being blocked.  Ha ha.]
Now, as you may recall, the Gaming Commission rejected the county's request, on behalf of the developers, for a deferral of part of the license fee, and for extra time to submit the application.  However, the developers are apparently prepared to forge on.
“I think the biggest single factor in them moving forward was community support,” Ossenfort said about the developers, Toronto-based Clairvest and British Columbia-based Great Canadian.
The parade goers will be able walk along with custom cars, motorcycles and chamber of commerce members and get free tickets to the privately owned Amsterdam Mohawks baseball team. [Capitol Confidential]
Oh man.

One of their competitors for the Region Two license has a bit of a legal inconvenience to deal with now.
The anti-casino group called Save East Greenbush said it sued on Thursday to block progress on the proposed casino planned by the leaders of Saratoga Casino and Raceway and Churchill Downs.

The petition contends that the resolution was adopted at a public meeting held in violation of the state Open Meetings Law; that it was adopted without having undergone any environmental review as required under the the State Environmental Quality Review Act; and was arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and an error of law. [Capitol Confidential]
The group also accuses Saratoga harness, Churchill Downs, and the Town Board of East Greenbush of having met privately and, it contends, inappropriately with a Gaming Commission attorney.
Any contact with Mr. Brad Fischer is an illegal ex parte communication that should mandate immediate dismissal of any application submitted to the Respondent state Gaming Commission.”
Well now.  This anti-casino group called Save East Greenbush is apparently not one to fuck with.  The breadth and assertive conviction of their accusations - an error of law! - suggests a confident swagger.  They have a professional-grade website, on which they helpfully point out exactly where this casino would be located.

I think that's one of the first rules in the Casino Developer's Guide to Politics - never build a CASINO right next to a Girl Scout Camp Is-Sho-Da!

Of course, the casino-to-possibly-be is having none of this lawsuit.
"This is a silly and meritless lawsuit and we are confident we will ultimately prevail in this matter." [Albany Business Review]
Back to Region Five, the Southern Tier, Thomas Wilmot Sr., hoping to build a casino way up north of the Finger Lakes in Tyre, announced details of his facility, including some architectural changes in response to community input.  It will not, as previously be reported, be named after him; but rather, it will be called Lago Resort and Casino.
“In renaming our project Lago Resort & Casino, we have adopted the Italian word for lake to highlight the magnificent Finger Lakes region and the outstanding vineyards and wineries encompassing the area,” Wilmot said. [Central NY Business Journal]
These casinos are apparently all about water - waterparks, lakes, tranquil ponds and flowing streams (linked just so you don't think I'm making this stuff up).

Yeah, that about captures what this place will be like, I'm sure.  This proposal is loaded with the usual superfluous unnecessities that casino developers include in order to make them seem less like casinos.
The casino-resort complex will feature a performance theater called the Vine, and a “regional platform” for area vendors, wineries and breweries, called Flavor New York. The updated design adds a new restaurant, a spa and a pool. [Capital Tonight]
You see, again with the water!!

Monday is the deadline for the applications, and the last chance for any of the faint-hearted to get their money back.  Michael DeMasi reports for Albany Business Review that 17 applications are expected.  It's gonna be heavy, man.
By one rough estimate, those applications could generate as much as 25,000 pounds of document
Plans for the $640 million [Nevele] resort casino filled more than 10,000 pages stuffed into 240 binders that will be shipped to Schenectady in a U-Haul truck, according to The Times Herald-Record.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Massachusetts Repeal Vote Has Implications for NY

The Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that a measure to repeal the state's casino law may appear on the ballot in November. The decision overrules Attorney General Martha Coakley, who had decreed that the measure could not appear because a repeal would amount to "an illegal 'taking' of contract rights from casino applicants." (I wrote more about her ruling earlier in the year in this post.)  It is, of course, not the first time Ms. Coakley has lost, and quite possibly not the last, as she plans to run for governor.

The casino repeal campaign this summer and fall is expected to draw significant national interest — and money.
For passionate casino opponents across the United States, the Massachusetts repeal referendum presents a tantalizing opportunity to defeat an industry that has steamrolled opposition for years, spreading into 39 states.

“This is a very historic ballot question,” said Les Bernal, director of the national anticasino group, Stop Predatory Gambling, in a recent interview. “It will be the first time in modern history for a citizen-led effort to repeal government sponsorship of casinos” to be decided by voters. [Boston Globe]
It would appear that in this instance, the anti-casino forces will have access to money, though it seems doubtful that they can match the deep pockets of the interested casino giants; both those who have already been granted licenses (MGM, in Springfield, and Penn National at the Plainridge harness track, a slots-only facility on which they have already begun construction), and those who are still competing with each other for the Boston area license (Mohegan Sun at Suffolk Downs, and Wynn Resorts in Everett).

A repeal would of course presumably have positive effects for New York casinos located not far away. Just an hour and 15 minutes would separate the Springfield casino from the one proposed by our friends at Saratoga harness and Churchill Downs for East Greenbush.  In fact, as Capitol Confidential notes, those folks "have touted their site as a way to stop bettors from leaving New York for Springfield."

I don't know if the mechanism exists for citizen casino opponents in New York State to similarly orchestrate a repeal vote; you know how they're all so democratic up there in New England.  But it would surely be interesting to see the nature and result of such a campaign here, now that things are not developing the way some assumed they would; and with those who may now be unexpectedly facing the prospect of a casino in their town more attuned to the issues and the arguments against.  And it would be especially interesting to see how such a vote would go if the ballot language was neutral, rather than the farcical Advocacy Language that the governor's office helped to sneak through (literally, as the language was not released publicly until after the deadline to challenge it had passed.  I wrote quite extensively about the issue last year.)  In fact, it may have been interesting to see how the vote would have gone last November if the language was fair, given the results of some polls which posed the question each way.

Well, at least the lesson of the ballot language episode has not gone unheeded.  A referendum on the ballot this November will concern a new "independent" redistricting committee which will actually be controlled by the legislature.  It is the product of a 2012 agreement between Cuomo and the legislature; specifically with the Republican-controlled Senate who pushed for the arrangement after reneging on their written promises to Ed Koch, when they were in the minority, to support a truly independent redistricting process.  Cuomo had previously pledged to oppose anything but, but it became one of the concessions he made to the GOP.

Of course, when it comes to redistricting, Republicans are no worse than Democrats, as demonstrated by this diagram of the district of State Senator Jeff Klein (kind of a Democrat, though perhaps an actual Democratic-to-be).

Anyway, back to my point - Blair Horner of the NYPIRG assures us that he'll be looking out for the release of the ballot language for the referendum by the Board of Elections.
Harking back to what they said was language that was rigged to evoke a “yes” vote on casinos and which came so late as to obviate a legal challenge, Horner and others will watching that closely, which could mean some interesting news later this summer. [Capitol Confidential]
So perhaps we won't get fooled again.  At least when it comes to referendum ballot language.

 - The city of Albany is not getting a casino; at least within the city limits.  There may be one right nearby however, and the city's Common Council is seeing what they can get squeeze out of the developers in East Greenbush, Rensselaer, and Schenectady.
City approval isn't needed for any project not within its borders.

But the support of the largest city in the region would likely be coveted by developers making their cases to the state. And there was talk, McLaughlin and other lawmakers acknowledged, that the council could convene Thursday evening to consider a resolution backing the proposed Hard Rock-branded casino and hotel on the Rensselaer waterfront, a pending resolution opposing all casino development in the region or some other option that has yet to publicly emerge. [Albany Times Union]
Well, guess you can't blame them; everyone wants a piece of the pie, and it's surely likely that Albany itself will be affected in some way by a nearby facility.  In Massachusetts, applicants are required to complete formal "surrounding community" agreements with their neighbors; so Albany officials seem to be taking a page out of that playbook.  The Times Union reports that there is a draft memorandum of understanding for the casinos that deals with money for creating jobs, enhancing public transportation, and promoting tourism.  
 The draft reviewed by the Times Union leaves the proposed dollar amounts for each commitment blank. It also asks developers to participate in a "player's card" program that would offer discounts at county-based businesses.
 Like I'm so sure that casino gamblers in East Greenbush will be making their way to the Crossgates Mall to shop.

 = Jeff Gural and Brian Sears have made peace.  As in, Gural has relented after the criticism of his ridiculous and selfish ban and will allow Sears to drive at his racetracks.  That's so sweet.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Casino Discrepancy

Here's a column that appeared over the weekend in the upstate Times Herald-Record (registration may be required for limited free access), blasting Governor Cuomo for allowing Orange County to get into the casino-bidding game.  The writer, Barry Lewis, tells Cuomo that "we're all wondering how you can do this to us."

You even came up to Bethel Woods to collect your winnings. Gave us your "game-changer" victory speech. Said that these casino-vacation destinations will spur economic growth, attract business and tourism, supply thousands of jobs and provide tax relief and funding for education anywhere in the state. Said it right to our face.

But instead of acting like the honest Las Vegas dealer that you promised was in our future, you played us like suckers in a three-card monte game.
Lewis is referring to a visit the governor made to Bethel Woods on the day after Election Day, on which voters approved the casino referendum.  Just for emphasis, let's repeat that this was the very day after the election - a victory celebration; a triumphant appearance by the man who would save the Catskills.  The lede in the story reporting the visit in the local Sullivan County Democrat read, understandably:
He didn’t have to say it.

Merely by his presence at Bethel Woods’ Event Gallery Wednesday, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed that Sullivan County is at the top of a very short list.
In this photo which accompanied the piece, Sullivan County Democratic Committee Chairman Darryl Kaplan greets the great man by kissing his hand.

“This is a game-changer,” [Cuomo] went on. “I think it is going to fundamentally change the economy of the Catskills.”

Cuomo, of course, cast that as a positive impact, noting this may prompt New York City’s 50 million annual tourists to also pay a visit just two hours upstate.  “It means we finally have a magnet to attract tourists in New York City north[ward],” he explained.
What about those jaded residents who’ve heard the “casinos are coming” mantra so many times, they’ve developed an automatic “show me” response?

“We’re going to show you this time,” he promised.
Oh, he's shown them all right! He's shown them that he can stand idly by while developers scramble to build as close to NYC as they are technically allowed to under the law; thus imperiling the hopes for (the perceived) economic relief from casinos that Catskills residents have awaited for decades.  Sullivan County, which once hoped to get both facilities for the region, is down to hoping for one.  (There are two remaining Sullivan County bids, but both are proposed for The Concord.)  And at least one other Catskills aspirant has expressed concerns about their ability to obtain financing due to the threat of an Orange County casino.

As we've said, the governor could have put the kibosh on Orange with a simple pronouncement, public or private, when the idea first started to percolate.  But he has remained silent.  The columnist Barry Lewis speculates that perhaps the governor was disingenuous from the very start, pointing out that, "amazingly," casino companies have, in mere weeks, been able come up with elaborate plans for Orange County casinos.  I'm not so sure I buy that conspiracy theory; after all, what does it really take? Come up with a sketch of a building, make some stuff up about water fountains and other amenities, throw in some numbers, mark up some traffic maps, and viola!  I mean, seriously, take a look at Genting's Power Point presentation to the town board of Tuxedo; this thing could have been thrown together in a week.

But maybe I'm being naive.  Who knows what the governor was thinking, or not thinking, when he took his Catskills victory lap?  It seems clear though that somebody at some point showed him the bottom line of the possible economic benefits, to the state, of a casino (or two) closer to NYC. Because his silence surely makes him complicit in the whole idea.  The letter from the Gaming Commission affirming Sullivan County's prospects last week only goes so far, and hardly eliminates Orange County from the running.  That guy who was kissing Cuomo's hand is likely thinking that the governor can kiss his butt at this point.

 - We've yet to mention the competition in the "other" region, the Eastern Southern Tier.  That's where Jeff Gural hopes to secure a license for his Tioga Downs racetrack and racino.  According to the narrative that I've been espousing here all along - that the governor and the NYGA concluded a back room deal whereby the latter would support (or at least not actively oppose) the referendum - Tioga Down's license is in the bag, and the two other declared contenders are wasting their time.  Out of all the NYGA members, Gural was the most active in supporting the measure. He has said: “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’d really be surprised if we don’t get the license."  So would I.

One of the other applicants is Traditions at the Glen - an existing resort in Johnson City, outside of Binghamton about a half hour east of Tioga (located in Nichols, NY). They have come out and said that they would like to work with Gural and Tioga should they secure the license.  But Gural is having none of that.
"We don't see any kind of partnership down the road at all with Traditions, and I think that our chances of getting the license are pretty excellent," said Gural.
"Truthfully, I think if (Traditions owner Bill Walsh) won the bid, he would go broke," said Gural. "I told him that. I don't think that there are enough customers for both of us." [WBNG]
The other Region Three Five proposal is in Tyre, NY, which is way up to the north around Seneca Falls, more than a couple of hours from the other two. The developer is Thomas Wilmot, a Rochester businessman, who would name the resort after himself.  Tyre is the site of the only actual physical violence related to the casino debate that I've read about thus far.
Lynn Barbuto, an active member of the Casino Free Tyre coalition and spokesperson for the town’s Amish community, was taken to Geneva General Hospital over what attendees and law enforcement officials called a “chair discrepancy.”

Casino opponents said Barbuto — who left the emergency room Thursday night — got into a scuffle with Karen Thomson, the wife of Town Board Member Thomas Thomson.

Board members said Barbuto was told she couldn’t sit in a certain chair because it was reserved for town officials. When Barbuto refused, board members said, Karen Thomson tried to get the chair back, causing Barbuto to slip out of the chair and fall.

Seneca County Sheriff Jack Stenberg said there was no indication that Barbuto was pushed, pulled or shoved from the chair. The office’s investigation has determined that no criminal act took place. “It was a disagreement of who should be able to sit in a chair,” he said. [Press Connects]
So things are pretty feisty up there!

Jeff Gural is having a disagreement over who should be able to drive horses at the Meadowlands.  We know that he has banned drivers over accusations of drugs and other improprieties.  However, he has banned the top driver Brian Sears from the Meadowlands, simply because Sears declined Gural's request to come drive there last month when two other drivers were out due to injury.  In a rambling statement, Gural twice refers to a "difference over the standards that we choose to apply at the Meadowlands," when it's clear that this is just a case of petty revenge.

Well, it's long been a racetrack's prerogative to ban certain individuals from its grounds in the name of private property.  However, I read a private posting by an attorney (who represents harness horsemen groups) who pointed out that the Meadowlands is, in fact, state-owned property that is being leased by Gural.  And that the horsemen are licensed by the state, giving them the right to enter that property.  So, this attorney contends that Gural lacks the authority to ban those individuals, and that he is violating Sears' right to due process.....especially considering that there are no rules violations involved.  Whether Sears resorts to legal action - there's been no indication that he plans to do so - remains to be seen.  However, Gural's action here is nothing short of bizarre, and his explanation borders on being incoherent.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Responsible Gaming

The New York State Senate passed a last-minute measure that will permit the state's racinos to stay open until 6AM instead of the current 4AM.  The Assembly had passed it the day before, and it now goes to Governor Cuomo for signature. 

The bill was pushed by a number of VLT parlors, but sources say Genting New York, which operates the Aqueduct casino facility, was among those most interested in its passage. [Bloodhorse]
The bill also increases free-play allowances that racinos can extend to their customers, and while I don't really know nor care exactly what that means, I presume it's just another way to get people to sit in front of the slots machines like zombies and piss away more of their money. 
"This bill is needed to provide incentives for individuals to visit the video lottery gaming facilities in order for these facilities to enhance revenues and attendance," states a memo accompanying the legislation.
Well, whatever.  But let me ask you this:  What happened to the thing we've always heard from NYGA about how they promote "responsible gaming?" 
New York Gaming Association (NYGA) members are deeply invested in their communities and care about their patrons.
Right. I'm so sure. 
NYGA is committed to promoting responsible gaming and is a proud member of the National Council on Problem Gambling.  In addition, NYGA works closely with the New York Council on Problem Gambling on the creation of “Best Practices” analysis of existing policies, practices and procedures.
I'd like somebody to explain to me how allowing and encouraging its patrons to stay and gamble until six o'clock in the morning can in any way qualify as responsible gaming?  (As if 4AM wasn't bad enough.)  Or as a "Best Practice" for dealing with problem gamblers?  And while we're told that the upstate racinos are having a tough year, Genting is thriving at the Big A, so what motive other than pure greed would motivate them to be the main driver behind this bill?  Concern for their fellow NYGA members?  Like Yonkers, who they're trying to drive out of business with a Tuxedo casino less than 40 miles away?  I suppose they wanted to get some return for all the money they've donated to the politicians responsible for passing this, and to the governor who will no doubt go along and sign it.

Just goes to show you how full of it all of these companies are when they talk about responsible gaming and caring about the community and family attractions and bucolic ponds and water parks and entertainment and any perk not having to do with gambling.  It's all an attempt to put a smiling benevolent face on what is nothing but a cold-blooded enterprise with no other goal but to plop people in front of a machine or a table and part them from their money.  And people actually fall for this crap.  I'd guess that some of those extra goodies won't even get built.  Like....remember this?

The grand fountain on the left that was supposed to greet visitors to Resorts World at Aqueduct?  What ever happened to that?  If I lived in Tuxedo, I'd take the promise of these fountains with a grain of salt!

And I'd probably be skeptical of all of the goodies that Genting says will accompany their proposed Sterling Forest Resort.  Like the redesign of the Sterling Forest gardens to be designed by a nationally-renowned team of landscape artists, and the New York Ice and Snow Festival, and the "adventureworld" at the ski center and the year-round family fun and excitement it will provide, and the first class ski center.

But at least I wouldn't have to be wary of a promise to uphold the standards of 'responsible gaming.'  There's not a single mention of it on the entire Sterling Forest website.  I guess they forgot to include that particular lie.

 - As one might have expected, the Gaming Commission rejected the appeal by Montgomery County, on behalf of the developer interested in building there, to defer part of the licensing fee and grant a 60-day extension to submit the application.

Friday, June 20, 2014

My City is Poorer Than Yours!

Not to be outdone by Sullivan County, the city of Newburgh wants everyone to know just how shitty things are there. 

"Of all the communities facing economic struggle in the Catskill/Hudson Valley region, none face as daunting a challenge as Newburgh. With a population of 28,866, the City has a poverty rate of 27.9%, and struggles with chronic unemployment and high crime unrivaled in the region," Mayor Judy Kennedy and Newburgh supervisor Gil Piaquadio said in a letter to the state Gaming Facility Location Board.
"We would like to officially invite the Gaming Facility Location Board to a tour of the City of Newburgh, so that it can fully understand the kind of poverty our residents have been struggling with for decades," the mayor's letter reads.  [Journal News]
That's a pretty grim picture, and a staggering rate of poverty.  It's so bad that one would think that a casino would only help so much (if, in fact, at all).  Seems an effective response to Sullivan County's poverty appeal and to the Gaming Commission's letter that affirmed the law's intent to aid struggling communities.

Casino supporters in the Catskills of course contend that any casino in Orange County will ruin the prospects for a facility in their region.  Not to mention that we've, thus far, seen one developer withdraw because they couldn't get financing because of the threat.  However, Saratoga Raceway & Casino, who is behind the proposed Newburgh facility, contend that this is not the case; that its imaginatively-named Hudson Valley Casino & Resort is the only Orange County casino that can "co-exist with a potential casino in the Catskills."  Complimenting, Not Competing With a Catskill Region Casino.  They claim that since Newburgh is located north of the turn-off for Route 17, the highway that heads northwest from the NYS Thruway towards the Catskills, they won't hurt business there.

That seems like kind of a silly argument.  Closer is closer, regardless of what the route is.  Newburgh is some 24 minutes closer to downtown Manhattan than is the Concord, according to Google Maps; and that's not considering traffic on Route 17, which was always a major issue back in the day when people actually used to go to the Catskills, and could be one again if people flock to casinos to gamble like we're told they will.  Not that it's that big of a time difference; but it is a difference, and if someone in NYC wishes to go to the closest casino, then they'll book a place at the closest casino.  I suppose it's up to the potential lenders and developers in the Catskills to decide for themselves whether or not the claim is true.  In any event, it's a clever ploy by the folks from Saratoga harness (also involved, of course, in the East Greenbush proposal, that one in partnership with Churchill Downs).

 - An interesting situation involving Montgomery County, located northwest of Albany and hoping to compete with developers there for the license in Region Two.  Officials from that county met with a Gaming Commission official in a bid to give the developer who's interested in building in Amsterdam, off Exit 27 of the Thruway (where I used to drive from Union College to watch Rangers games on cable TV) (that was a really long time ago) a lower license fee and more time. 
Matt Ossenfort, the county executive, said he was optimistic at the end of the meeting. He gave the commission several documents and an argument for concessions that include a $25 million cut in the licensing fee for a Montgomery County casino and a 60-day extension for Clairvest and Great Canadian Gaming to complete an application for a casino license........
The county leaders said they represent a region so distressed that the Salvation Army is closing its office and food pantry. [Capitol Confidential]
In a letter to the Gaming Commission which is embedded in the link above, the county cites the widespread support for a casino in the surrounding communities.  "We are not aware of any organization or group in Montgomery County, the town of Florida, or the city of Amsterdam that is opposed to a casino development in the county." Don't think I didn't do a Google search for 'No Amsterdam Casino' and 'No Casino at Exit 27.'  I guess they don't have many tree-huggers in Montgomery County. 

Then they go into their own tale of economic woe.  The poverty rate there is 19.2%.  Not in the same ballpark as Newburgh but, according to the letter, it's "almost 29% above the state average."  There's more, and it's pretty bleak.  Median household income 25.75% below the state average; 31% of children under 18 under the poverty line; an unemployment rate of 7% that's 40% higher than the average rate for the 52 upstate counties (sounds like a bit of spin on that last one).

Montgomery's appeal for a lower licensing fee is based on its contention that the fee pricing structure for Region Two is unfair as compared to the other two regions, in which there are different fees for different areas within the regions.

The same argument is made with respect to the minimum capital investment.  The letter goes on to claim that this inequality makes the venture unattractive to potential developers. 
On the announcement of the minimum spend on May 12, [the developers] met again with the local leadership and advised that the economic model of a higher tax rate, a higher license fee and a higher minimum spend in Montgomery County than that in similar Counties in Regions one and five and the same requirements as a potential development in Albany was not supportable.  They advised that without a modification to the economics to those offered to other similar counties in Regions one and five, they would be unable to proceed.
So, the county is asking for a deferral of $25 million of the $50 million license fee (to be recouped by a tax on revenues above a certain level); and a 60 day extension of the June 30 deadline to submit an application.  After all, the letter appeals, 60 days is a drop in the bucket relative to a "20-30 year economic impact decision."  It seems they have a fair point, and I think one can sympathize with their situation. But good luck with that. I'm sure that the Gaming Commission knows that if it makes one exception, it's going to be dealing with a myriad of requests for others.  I'd be pretty surprised if they grant the request.

 - Back in Tuxedo, the consultants hired by the city to assess the Genting proposal addressed an audience of 100 residents on Wednesday, and provided a positive report regarding the Host Agreement they are negotiating with Genting. 
This would include at a minimum $50 million in capital support for town projects, payment of 50 percent of school taxes, $3.5 million in guaranteed real estate taxes and about $7.4 million in gaming tax collection, they said.
"This development has a net positive impact on the town," said Chuck Bedsole, managing director at Alvarez & Marsal. "It has the potential of enhancing the quality of life of the residents. It ensures the long term stability of the town." [Journal News]

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Odds May Be Against Genting's Orange County Casino

Here's an interesting article from a local paper on Genting's efforts to construct a casino in Tuxedo, which, as we've noted, is a bit more than 40 miles from the Empire State Building.  As the town works towards finalizing an acceptable Host Agreement, it seems as if Genting has a long way to go in order to obtain all of the local approvals that it needs.  (In fact, I believe it's the case that none of the Orange County bidders have finalized that part of the process as of yet.)  One key issue is the construction of a dedicated exit (15B) off the New York Thruway to facilitate traffic flow to the facility. 

Part of Genting’s proposal involves contributing some $25 million dollars toward completing the NY Thruway Exit 15B just north of Tuxedo that would help funnel traffic to the resort.

The construction of Exit 15B may involve the acquisition of state park land, which would make that portion of the project extremely difficult as it would necessitate approval by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. Town Councilman Gary Phelps expressed at a recent town meeting that if the Rt. 15B exit doesn’t happen, the overall project doesn’t happen. [Sloatsburg Village]
There's a potential deal breaker right there.  Sentiment towards the idea seems to be mixed, at very best.  The article reports that 180 out of 262 emails received in response to a request for public comment were against the idea.  And the list of organizations opposed to it includes the kind of names that riles those on the side of the political spectrum that gets irked by those damn "tree-huggers." 
Regional groups who are mounting opposition to the development include NY/NJ Trail Conference, the Highlands Coalition, Sterling Forest Partnership, and the Appalachian Mountain Club, according to Geoff Welch of the Sterling Forest Partnership.
A transcript of a public meeting held on June 9 shows a contentious debate with a healthy dose of skepticism towards Genting.  It's particularly interesting though to read what exactly concerns those who spoke up at the meeting.  While a couple of people mentioned crime, there seems to be more concern about a potential decline in property values.  And instead of talking about the number jobs that could be created (in fact, the words 'jobs' and 'employment' do not appear a single time in the entire discussion), one woman "worries about the need for lower income housing to house the custodians, chambermaids and dishwashers at the casino." 
She wonders where such housing will be available and fears that single family housing might be turned into multi-family housing.
Well, this hardly sounds like comments from a community that desperately needs a casino (or at least thinks it does) because it is in dire financial straits, such as those prospective sites in Sullivan County and other areas in the Catskills.  So, if you take at face value the letter by the Gaming Commission's Robert Williams the other day, in which he affirmed that the intent of the law is to "provide maximum benefit to the State through bringing economic benefit to municipalities that have been economically disadvantaged," and to "create jobs, reduce unemployment in disadvantaged areas of the State," then Genting's proposed casino surely doesn't seem to fit the bill.

Besides and as we've said, a casino in Tuxedo would sit less than 40 miles away from the racino at Yonkers, and I just don't see the state putting that facility, part of the NYGA with whom the governor no doubt negotiated back room deals in order to gain their support for the referendum, at that kind of competitive disadvantage.  (Yes, Genting is a member of NYGA too, but they already have their jackpot at the Big A and would not be hurt by this project being rejected.)  So, while Genting may very well have successfully run some interference for its related Empire entity and its proposal for the Concord by contributing to a couple of Catskills bidders dropping out, I just don't see their Sterling Forest Resort coming to pass.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Now You Tell Us?

The New York State Gaming Commission issued a statement on Tuesday refuting the notion that a casino in Orange County is a lock. 

In a letter to Senate Racing Committee chairman John Bonacic, who represents the region, Gaming Commission acting director Robert Williams said that the law last year to authorize four casinos in upstate New York is aimed to ensure that high-need areas, particularly Sullivan County, would be given consideration for a casino.

"A perceived advantage for Orange County is inconsistent with both the statute authorizing the competition and the request for applications," Williams wrote. [Journal News]

Oh.  Well, that's what we thought all along.  Why however are you just telling us this now?  After two potential developers in Sullivan County have already dropped out because of the activity in Orange? 
  "The cumulative effect of Sullivan County economic need, the RFA provisions, and the clear legislative intent, is that while there may be legitimate proposals in the southern area of Region One [Orange County-ed.], proposed projects in Sullivan County are not at any competitive disadvantage.  Put another way, it is entirely within the terms of the RFA and the statue that a lower investment in Sullivan County could have a higher impact on economic need than a larger investment in the southern part of the Region.  All the bidders understand this, and I believe that if Sullivan County bidders choose not to continue in the competition, there are other factors at play."
Well, yes, there was another factor at play in Foxwoods' decision to withdraw from the proposed Grossinger's project.  They couldn't get financing, we were told, due to just the prospect of a casino in Orange.  The Nevele has expressed concern about their ability to obtain financing as well.  Mr. Williams does not address that slight problem in his letter.  And I don't know that this statement will do enough to solve it, as it surely does not entirely preclude the possibility that there will be a casino in the southern area of Region One.

On the other hand, it does, finally, reaffirm the original legislative intent of the law, and seems to indicate that the playing field will be, if not tilted, than certainly deferential to the needs of the counties in the Catskills region.  So, one might imagine that the bidders who have spent time and money devising their plans for casinos and bucolic ponds and babbling brooks for locations in Orange County might not be too thrilled with this statement either.  The Hudson Valley is specifically included in the legislation as an eligible area, so I suppose that the state is required to accept and consider their applications.  However, as I pointed out in yesterday's post, when the law was passed, it was fully assumed and presumably accepted in writing by the governor's office that the two casinos for Region One would be sited in the Catskills.  Somebody could have put the kibosh on the whole Orange County idea either publicly or privately when the first rumblings of a casino there emerged.  Now, you have more than just a bit of a mess.  It remains to be seen whether bidders and banks will be assuaged to the point at which they will proceed in the Catskills.  It may already be too late for those in Sullivan County that were hoping that both casinos would be located there.  And the Orange County bidders may be having second thoughts.

 - Nonetheless, here's the latest website for a proposed Orange County site.  This is the one from Penn National and Cordish, "two proven operators with the strongest balance sheets in the industry." 
  The resort would also include a destination spa, fitness center and salon, boutiques, a live entertainment center and a conference center that could accommodate up to 2,000 people. [Times Herald-Record]
We always like to know what the amenities are that I'm SO SURE casino gamblers will care about.  This casino would be located in South Blooming Grove, near Woodbury Commons, hardly an area with the kind of economic need as those in the Catskills.

 - Genting is working on plans to build a brand new exit 15B off the New York State Thurway to serve its hoped-for casino in Tuxedo, the proposed site that is closest to New York City.

 - Keeneland gets the Breeders' Cup for 2015, and reports are that it will return to Santa Anita in 2016 (because they've done SUCH a great job maintaining a fair main track for the last two) and then Del Mar in 2017.  Perhaps we'll see a Breeders' Cup here in New York if NYRA installs Polytrack at Belmont and then announces they are tearing it out and replacing it with dirt.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Orange County Competition Thinning Catskills Field

Foxwoods has withdrawn from the casino competition, declining to pursue its proposed facility at the old Grossinger's resort in Liberty.  The company cites the competition from Orange County, saying that just the threat of competition so close to NYC has made it impossible to get their project financed.

“We always approached this project by assuming that there would be two casinos in the Catskills, but what we didn’t plan for, and cannot compete with, is a casino project in Orange County.” [Capitol Confidential]
This development ends the hope of Sullivan County officials of landing both casinos that are slated for the Catskills/Hudson Valley region, as the remaining two bidders in the county are both proposing to build at the Concord.  In a desperate attempt to demonstrate how badly the area needs at least one casino, the county recently released a fact sheet showing just how bad things are there.  Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson reacted quite bitterly to the news.
“The legislation was so clearly written for disadvantaged areas of the upstate region to revitalize tourism and economic development....Everything that it says screams Sullivan and parts of Ulster, the Ellenville area, so it is pretty crazy that the big developers came in and have convinced the people of Orange County that they can get a casino. I just don’t believe that is the way it should go or will go.” [Daily Freeman]
Well, I too have been saying and believing that, in keeping with the obvious spirit and intent of a law called the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act, the casinos would be sited upstate.  As in, upstate.  Not as in 40 miles north of NYC.  Perhaps that will ultimately be the case.  However, given the fact that nothing has been said nor done to dissuade Orange County bidders, one now wonders if there will be any bidders left standing in the Catskills other than perhaps the Genting-related Empire/EPR, who may not need outside financing to build its casino at the Concord.  A reader cleverly suggested that the Genting proposal in Tuxedo, NY is serving as a 'rabbit' to get Empire's Catskills competitors out of the running.  Left standing as of now, there are two remaining other than Empire; the Mohegan Sun/Cappelli project at the Concord, and the Nevele.

Michael Treanor, heading the Nevele's bid, is singing a different tune these days.  Back in November, before there was any hint of competition from Orange County, he told the NY Times: “We’ve got three banks willing to finance our project."  Now, he says:
“The possibility of a casino in Orange County definitely weighs heavily on financing for the Nevele....Our application is going to say if there’s a casino in Orange County, the Nevele won’t be building. But if the state wants to bring back the upstate economy, then Ulster and Sullivan are poster children for a casino. If the objective is for the state to make the most money, then plop it next to Woodbury Common.” [Times Herald-Record]
And making the most money is exactly the point, at least according to Orange County officials.
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus issued a statement that read in part: “Casinos in Orange County can produce the most revenue and create the most jobs – the very purpose of the gaming law.”
I guess it's a matter of interpretation, but it seems to me that the purpose of the gaming law was to produce revenue and create jobs while also assisting areas upstate that urgently need an economic boost (for whatever it's ultimately worth).  When Cuomo announced the enabling law just about exactly one year ago, the accompanying press release from his office quoted him as saying that it would create "economic activity for local businesses and creating thousands of good paying jobs where we need it most.”  I don't believe he was referring to Woodbury.  In addition, right there in the governor's press release were these quotes:
Senator John Bonacic said, “For fifty years, the Catskills have sought gaming as a way to grow our tourism based economy. The gaming bill can create thousands of upstate jobs.."

Chair of the Racing and Wagering Committee and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow said, “Our agreement to bring casinos to the Catskills, the Southern Tier and the Capital Region is good for the local economy, the state economy and the people of New York."
You can't get anymore specific than those references to the Catskills. Again, this is direct from the governor's press release which was, we can presume, very closely vetted by his staff before being released.  After decades of false starts and disappointments, it seemed as if gaming was finally coming to the Catskills.  What could go wrong this time?

Well, apparently, it's the lure of more money for the state, the fate of these individual counties be damned. (And as always, I'll add the qualifier that the ultimate effectiveness of casinos in reviving these struggling areas will remain to be seen....if we indeed have an opportunity to remain and see.) Governor Cuomo could very well have put an end to the Orange County frenzy with a simple statement re-affirming what we all believed to be the original intent of the legislation, signaling that bidders in the Catskills region would be given priority in the selection process.  Or by having his Gaming Commission set requirements for Orange County that were financially prohibitive (if there's such a thing for Genting....though he could also have told Genting to lay off or forget about an eventual casino at the Big A).

But we've heard nothing from His Majesty at all.  So, the voters in the Catskills merrily went to the polls to approve the referendum with the belief - affirmed in writing in official releases from the governor's office itself - that the casinos would be sited there.  I imagine they would have voted differently it they thought or knew otherwise. They must be feeling betrayed by this governor.  They're surely not the first.  For one, they can join those of us who have watched as Cuomo, in order to suit his own political ambitions, has facilitated the arrangement in the Senate that empowered the minority Republicans and thereby thwarted progressive initiatives that are favored by the majority of voters.  It remains to be seen if they will be the last.

 - Saratoga harness and Churchill Downs unveiled a sketch of their proposed casino in East Greenbush, now to be called the Capital View Casino and Resort.

Oh yeah, that's attractive.  Fits right in with the general decor too.
 "Surrounded by tranquil ponds and flowing streams, Capital View Casino & Resort will boast an ambiance that builds on the natural beauty of the surrounding area. The stately Dutch Colonial building will reflect the architectural vision of early European settlers, who dreamed of a New Netherland. The regal estate will be the capstone of the surrounding countryside, replete with well-manicured formal gardens, a walking path and hand-tended vegetable and herb gardens that will supply fresh produce to the farm-to-table restaurants inside."
 Excuse me while I go throw up.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Head Could Roll Over Belmont Mess

I didn't have a good time at Belmont on Saturday.  But that doesn't have to be all NYRA's fault.  A good part of it was just me.  I have to admit that I went in with a bad attitude to start with.  As I've written before (ad nauseum I'm sure), I'm not at all a fan of the BIG all-day stakes marathon.  As interesting as many of the races were from a sporting standpoint, they're not my preferred races to bet on; so I was rather curmudgeon-y about the whole concept right from the start.  And, like our buddy o_crunk noted on his [restricted] Twitter account: The best part about going to the track is that no one is usually there. While I wouldn't totally agree with that sentiment - technology has helped make it possible to soak in the welcome buzz of a crowded track like Saratoga without having to deal much with the actual crowds - The idea you want to go to a track when there's 100k there? LOL, no.  (And actually, Saratoga is totally pleasant and manageable even if you have to go to the windows, and even on their most crowded days.)

My main problem on Saturday really was the fact that the technology was not available to me. I don't know if it's NYRA's fault that the cellular and wireless networks were overwhelmed to the point where they became useless to me after around 2PM.  But once that happened, my betting day was more or less over.  These days, I bring my iPad, handicap with TimeformUS and wager on NYRA Rewards.  In theory, I don't have to get up from my chair in the backyard all day.  Just like all of the many people who tell me that TimeformUS is really cool but "I'm just used to the Form," well, I'm now just used to doing it my way. But I couldn't on Saturday; and even if I wanted to buy a Form instead - which I didn't/wouldn't/won't - the stands I passed were completely sold out of them by then anyway.  I found myself shelling out $6 for an official track program just so I could tell which horses were which; even though I knew all along that the program would ultimately be worthless once California Chrome went down in flames.

This failure in wireless technology also caused some logistical issues for me.  I was there quite early to help at a TimeformUS booth we had in the clubhouse from 11:30 until 1, where I spent most of the time dealing with people who dropped by to ask where they could buy the Racing Form.  (I directed them to the playground in the far back corner of the backyard.)  (Just kidding.)  The Head Chef was to join me mid-afternoon via the Long Island Railroad.  But when I could no longer consistently send or receive texts or calls, I ended up either at the train depot waiting for her as she waited for a train at Jamaica that she could actually board, or walking back and forth between there and a spot where I could find some cell service.  I spent two races doing that.

Truth is, absent the dearth of connectivity, I could have been sufficiently content.  The backyard was manageable space-wise (if you don't mind cigar-smoking preppy boys), and had I been able to handicap and wager conveniently (mostly on "regular" races from other tracks), you probably wouldn't be reading this post.  Personally, I had no problems getting in or out of the track by car - in fact, the yellow field ($20) had an ingenious new traffic pattern that facilitated a quick exit, and I was home by 7:35 (in time to spend the next four hours being tortured watching the Rangers lose in double overtime.  Man, what a day.)  (I feel a little bad reading about the people who spent two hours trying to get out; but hey man, you gotta put a little thought, effort and, sometimes, money into figuring that out.)  I found a men's room on the second floor of the clubhouse (in some kind of VIP area that I had no problem walking in and out of as I pleased) for which the only line in sight was the women standing inside waiting for a stall.  (Nearby, there was a long line for a women's room, and it was a bit humorous I must say seeing the faces of those who looked longingly at the women walking into the men's room, but they JUST COULDN'T bring themselves to do it and not that I can really blame them.)  Sure, there was no way I was waiting on any of those food lines, but I was able to obtain at least a little sustenance at the vending machines.  M&Ms and Coke can get me through a pretty long period of time.

However, there was no connectivity, so I wasn't content.  Without the online wagering option, and with the betting lines in the back far too long for my taste, wagering involved getting up, fighting one's way through the crowd, and heading to one of the upper floors to try and find shorter lines.  They were there if you looked for them, to be sure.  But after a while, it just wasn't worth the effort.  I've written here on several occasions that the Foolish Pleasure - Ruffian match race was the most oppressively crowded track day I've ever endured.  That is no longer that case.  I made one bet all day.

But look, you get 102,000 in a racetrack, and there are going to be lines, there are going to be tight spots, there are going to be inconveniences.  You can't blame everything on NYRA, right?  I mean, it's just the nature of the Triple Crown beast. 

However.....on the other hand.......

The NYRA Reorganization Board brought in this guy Chris Kay.  He knows nothing about racing, nothing about the Triple Crown.  He knew some things though, and, we've been told, he knew one thing very well.  Hospitality.  The Guest Experience.  That is what he always talks about. 

  “The fact is I hope to bring something different to the table that is needed....I would like to see increased fan support here at the tracks and that requires an enhanced guest experience.....I’ve been blessed spending time with Universal Studios, which I think is fantastic with the fan experience. We are going to try to enhance the guest experience for both the core fan and the casual fan.” [New York Daily News]
  So then, given that this is the man's area of expertise and focus, how about a more unforgiving view:

How could this possibly happen?  They've had months on end to plan this and, though the enhanced stakes schedule was a (losing) bet against a Triple Crown, it was always a possibility.  How can it be that the track seemed distinctly more crowded than the two other days in which there were more than 100,000 "guests," supposedly more than 120,000 in once case?  How could they run out of food and drink?  How could it be that we're reading complaints about pre-paid parking passes not being accepted?  And about reserved seating sections being overrun by people who didn't pay $100+ for the privilege?   Given the way that NYRA encouraged people to pay extra in service charges to buy admission in advance on Ticketmaster, how could it be that at times there were long lines for ticket holders while those paying in cash were able to walk right in?  It seemed to me that there were actually less porto-potties spread around the backyard than last year, a non-Triple Crown event.  Last year, there was a row of a half dozen or so diverse food trucks lining the walkway opposite the paddock; this year, they weren't there, replaced by a basic burgers/dogs/beers stand for which there weren't even any lines, just a mass of people.  Why were the walking vendors only selling cans of putrid Coors Light (for $10)?  Where was the much ballyhooed "entertainment?"   Oh, was that LL Cool J that I barely heard on the PA system?  Where was Bernie Williams (like I really care)?  Oh, you mean, he was only playing in one of the VIP area$ ?  Why did both the Head Chef and I get the distinct feeling that there was actually less of an effort than in past years, before Mr. Hospitality came to town?

People lose their jobs over things like this, man.  Especially if it's due to a failure in an area that he/she has specifically emphasized.  Even if it's not all their fault, it kinda sticks, like when the mayor is blamed because two feet of snow made it impossible to make all the streets passable the next morning.  Could NYRA have done anything to boost the cellular and wireless service?  I don't know.  I don't really know if the train snafu after the races has anything to do with NYRA as opposed to the MTA.  Since the latter had clearly warned of two hour waits, why didn't they have a slew of shuttle buses at the ready to at least get people to Jamaica, where both the LIRR and the subway were options?  However, considering all of the other well-publicized problems that were under NYRA's watch, they will get stuck with the bill for that too.  And this mess has wider implications than just some pissed off people waiting for a train.  The bad publicity over it is not going to go away soon.  We'll surely hear politicians who are delighted to have NYRA as a whipping boy once again.  If there was really any chance of the Breeders' Cup ever coming back to Belmont, you can likely forget about that for now.

Chris Kay had spoken about cutting off admission sales at a certain point, in order to be able to enhance the guest experience.  That probably would have been a good idea.  The problem was that he mentioned it only in passing, and far too late to be able to implement it.  That's just a lack of decisiveness, not a good quality for somebody in charge of running an operation like the New York Racing Association.  I dunno, man....I wouldn't want to be Chris Kay when it comes time for the next NYRA board meeting.  I'd think he's gonna have to answer a lot of questions.  And if I were he, I'd be taking another look at, and thanking my lawyers and lucky stars for, all of those generous severance clauses that are contained in his contract.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Mixed Feelings Towards a Crown (as of now)

Pretty busy at TimeformUS these days, happily.  And quite busy and distracted with the Rangers opening their Finals series in LA on Wednesday night.  Add in one of my favorite bands in town, and I don't know that I'll be able to post here again before Belmont day.  I will be at a TimeformUS "Pop-up" event at the track on Saturday.  It runs from 11:30 until 1, and we'll be there demo-ing the product on a big screen, and trying to pick some winners.  Would love to see you there; please stop by to say hi if you're around.  More details here.  It's on the second floor of the clubhouse.  And the bad news is that it's on the second floor of the clubhouse.  That's fine on any other day and we certainly hope to do this again. But it'll cost an extra 20 bucks to get into the clubhouse on Saturday, so I certainly understand if you can't make it.  I may have a couple of passes to give away though, so please check back here or on my Twitter feed.

I've been having fun here and over at the TimeformUS blog smugly predicting that California Chrome will lose.  Not that I'll necessarily be actively rooting for him to lose or anything, except that I will be betting against him.  So I guess I will be rooting for him to lose, to whoever I bet, anyway!  Betting aside, I dunno, don't have really passionate feelings either way at this time.  It's not like with Seattle Slew, who I'd followed from his very first race, before which I was one of probably thousands who had a tip on him. Nor like Affirmed, who raced as a two-year old seven times (out of nine juvenile starts, imagine that!) in New York.  Nor even like Real Quiet, who also had never raced in NY prior to the Belmont, but who was my top pick in the Derby (though I sadly didn't cash a ticket on the race).  Nor Big Brown, who I just liked, because he was really really good.  I have no emotional attachment to this horse at all.  A Triple Crown?  Yeah, that would be cool.  But if I have any real butterflies during the day, it'll be from thinking about trying to get home after the race in time for the hockey game.

On the negative side, I must say that the owners of California Chrome are slowly progressing from 'slightly annoying' towards being insufferable.  A couple of more articles about them like Drape's and I just might be shouting for him to lose come Saturday evening, to anyone! Getting kind of sick of their smug "we knew it all the time" spiel.  Now they're apparently booking a trip for next year's Oaks with the horse's full sister.  Yeah, we'll see about that.  But, as for now, I'm giving them a pass.  For now.  Probably a good thing that I won't be watching the telecast.

One thing for sure, I am definitely NOT attached to the idea that his winning would be "good for racing."  Sure, there might be a short-term boost for the possible remaining three or four starts in his career. But what will it mean when he's whisked off to stud after the season?  These owners care only about themselves as far as I can tell, and they're not going to miss out on another chance to cash out, I'm sure.  And I might actually argue that it would be better for the game if, come this time next year, we were still attached to a reality in which there hasn't been a Triple Crown winner in 36 37 years. Getting to this point is the most important thing - the excitement level is quite palpable.  Don't think the buzz would be nearly so loud if a Crown was won recently.

Of course, perhaps California Chrome will win in Secretariat-like fashion and become a legend of the game, thus shutting me up.  But I don't see that happening.  I think he's going to lose.  For one thing, aside from the fact that I just don't think he's that good, and as I explained in this post, I don't like the way that Victor Espinoza spoke about having to be so reactive in moving too soon in the Preakness.  Yes, the absence of Social Inclusion will help.  But there are still horses, like Samraat, Tonalist and General a Rod, who may be involved up front and who may very well be making premature moves on the turn, like Social Inclusion did at Pimlico.  Espinoza got away with moving when he didn't want to last time.  But this race is unforgiving.  He may very well be in front turning for home, and the crowd will be going nuts.  But I think Cali Chrome is gonna get caught.

Could be Wicked Strong.  I don't think it will be Ride on Curlin, who got his clear shot in the Preakness; though I wouldn't be shocked.  I wouldn't be completely shocked if it was Commanding Curve.  I would be if it's Medal Count.

Or maybe it will be Tonalist who will be in control turning for home.  I do like this horse, though I'd prefer to see him more like 12-1 than the 8-1 at which he is listed in the morning line, considering his lack of seasoning and just how much he needs to improve speed figure-wise.  Though at a mile and a half, never sure just how relevant those numbers are at this point.  I do know however that his figures are surely moving in the right direction.  And that I very much like his pedigree.  He’s a son of Tapit out of a mare by the Derby/Preakness winner Pleasant Colony (Derby/Preakness winner who was 3rd in the Belmont) who’s a half to the dam of Havre de Grace, and to the dam of the classy Riskaverse, who won turf stakes up to a mile and a quarter. This is also the distaff family of Christiecat, another graded winner on grass at ten furlongs; as well as Petroski, who won a Grade 1 jumping race at Saratoga at 2 3/8 miles.  So, there's some stamina for you!  And to top it off, it's also the female family of the classy Florida Derby/Wood/Jim Dandy winner Plugged Nickel, who didn’t win beyond a mile and an eighth, but who is one of my favorite horses of all time.  So he gets some extra credit for that.  So Tonalist is my pick, at least as of Wednesday afternoon.

If not he, than I think the winner will be someone else who's not named California Chrome.  And when the smoke clears and the fans slink away in disappointment, the fact is that the sport will be no worse off for it, at all.

 - The Los Angeles Kings are said by many to be as much as a sure thing as California Chrome.  I'm not going to be quite as bold in saying that they won't win either!  But I do think the Rangers have a solid shot at the Cup.  By all accounts, the Kings just survived a series that was historically grueling; their third seven game in as many encounters.  So I'm optimistic that New York can get the jump on them and gain at least a split in LA.  I believe that observers around the league that have not watched the Rangers play regularly don't realize just how impeccable the team's defensemen are; two shutdown-quality pairs, and a third pairing that is rock solid as well (especially once John Moore returns from his suspension in Game 2).  The scoring has been timely and well-balanced.  And the goalie needs no introduction.  Seems to me that the team in Blue has the edge in goal for sure.  Man, I sure saw a lot of pucks flying past the Kings' goalie in the last two games!  So, I'll say, the Blueshirts in.......well, I don't care how many games.  Let's Go Rangers!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Big Enough

NYRA CEO Chris Kay kind of casually mentioned last week that general admission for the Belmont could 'sell out,' and not be available for walk-up customers on Saturday.  David Grening of the Form reported that: Kay had not yet defined what number he and his staff feel is the cut-off point for sales.

 “I’m more committed to people having a great time than breaking a record for attendance, particularly since some of the attendance records from the past, I’m not sure how reliable they are.”
Yet, here we are, five days before the race, and there's absolutely nothing on the NYRA website - not a single word - to indicate that sales could be cut off.  Under 'Headlines' on the home page, there's a story entitled 'Grandstand, clubhouse admission still available.." and if you click on the story to delve further, it reads (and I quote): "As well, walk-up admission can be purchased at the track on Belmont Stakes Day itself.."

So, I'm not sure what Kay is thinking about here.  Closing the gates would be a total departure from the way the tracks have operated around here for as long as I've been going, and, I'd imagine, longer than that (if you can imagine that).  So, if it's really being considered, NYRA needs to make that entirely clear.  A rather offhand mention at a board meeting that was reported near the bottom of an article in the Daily Racing Form just will not do.  In fact, I think that NYRA needs to make a decision on this really soon and make it known one way or another.  Either you can walk up and get in, or you cannot.  Barring some kind of unforeseen 'opening night at the Meadowlands scenario' in which an unexpected throng makes the logistics absolutely impossible to fit more people in, I just don't see how they can shut the gates mid-day and turn away people who have just shelled out as much as $50 to park away.

"When was the last time a race track had to turn customers away because the place wasn't big enough to hold them all?" read the NY Times headline on September 2, 1976, the day after the Big M opened (I was amongt those that never made it past the access road).  But there's no way Belmont isn't big enough to handle any crowd that shows up on Saturday (barring, as I said, some kind of completely unanticipated - and highly unlikely - deluge of humanity).  People who were at the Smarty Jones Belmont that drew, officially, 120,139 complain that it was too crowded.  But I was there, and I disagree.  I thought it was fine.  (I remember the Foolish Pleasure-Ruffian match race as the most insufferably crowded day at a racetrack ever.)

And besides, this is a different era of Belmont crowds anyway, with the ban on bringing in alcohol and, starting last year with the oppressive security measures, coolers and bags bigger than 28"L x15"W x17"H too.  (And by the way, you're not allowed to bring in weapons either.  Just so you know.) So I'm putting the over/under at 95,000.  Belmont is well big enough to handle that just fine.  Fact is that Kay also said that there were plenty of general admission left....and that Ticketmaster does not have the tell-tale "Not Many Left!" warning that indicates that there are....well, not many left.  The cynic in me wonders if NYRA has some kind of incentive to steer its customers to Ticketmaster, where they will pay an extra $2.25 in service fees, a 22.5% markup to the $10 cost of getting in.

 - In looking up that 1976 article on the Meadowlands, I ran across another one on the crowd at Yonkers that night.
 In contrast to the New Jersey oval, which had to turn away thousands, Yonkers had only 11,783 fans passing through its turnstiles.  The former low of the previous 37 nights of the meeting was 12,472.
The article goes on to note that the crowd grew as the night went on and people turned away from the Meadowlands arrived late.  I was amongst that contingent! Yonkers long ago stopped announcing their attendance figures. But I would surmise that they don't have much more than 11,783 fans combined in an entire month of racing there.

 - Joe Drape writes in the Times of Tom Durkin, who will call his last Belmont on Saturday with one last chance to call a Triple Crown winner. It's a great read, and includes a video montage of his seven calls of failed attempts at glory.  Check it out.  "The Triple Crown will remain vacant, once again," Durkin noted in 2008 after Big Brown pulled up at the top of the stretch.  And it shall remain vacant again on Saturday.  We'll see what NYRA's legendary voice comes up with calling his final failed attempt.