Greetings from the spectacularly beautiful island nation of Grenada! As I'd mentioned, the Head Chef and I are away on vacation to mark a special occasion, and we still have several more days to go. Once again, a happy, healthy and safe new year to all. Just checking in with a few thoughts while I have a wireless connection, but will endeavor to be uncharacteristically succinct so I can get back to doing not much of anything at all..
Governor Cuomo lost his dad on the same day that he was inaugurated for his second term. I wasn't much into state politics when Mario was governor, so, by far, I remember him most for his 1984 convention speech, and his flirtation with a presidential run. His far less articulate son will never be the keynote speaker at a Democratic convention, and likely will never be anointed as the party's presidential candidate at one. He has however done a graceful job of balancing his comments in the wake of the Eric Garner grand jury decision, the protests that it spurred, and the tragic and senseless cop killings that neither the protestors nor the mayor had anything to do with. I could go on a bit here....but I'm on vacation, remember? Having said that, one can surely understand why police officers would be inflamed by the mayor and police commissioner's deference towards Al Sharpton, who built his career by inflaming racial tensions with spectacular accusations when- and wherever he could get his then-fat face in front of a camera (at a time when that didn't come as easily as it does today). Our buddy and longtime reader jk posted an article from the Post about the Reverend's involvement with bidders for the Aqueduct casino.
- The governor's letter to the Location Board asking it to reopen the bidding for a casino in the real Southern Tier has the potential to open up a can of worms. Ulster County Executive Michael Hein wants the board to re-consider a license for the Nevele.
On a Tuesday letter to the Gaming Commission and its siting board, Hein, a strong supporter of the Nevele plan, wrote: “It is my strong belief, motivated by legislative intent and fairness, that the new round of applications includes the Catskills/Hudson Valley Region, not just the Eastern Southern Tier/Finger Lakes Region.” [Daily Freeman]The Nevele was the only unsuccessful bidder in the Catskills/Hudson Valley region that was singled out in the board's final report; it noted that their financing was not complete. Hein noted that, back in the day, competition in the Catskills "was not a detriment, but rather fostered broad commercial success among a network of resorts." I imagine that Mohegan Sun and Louis Cappelli, rejected in their bid at the Concord, would share these sentiments as well.
This article, which I found at the Ithaca Journal site, is chock full of information about the tracks that are likely to be negatively affected by the controversial casino in Tyre; the non-Southern Tier selection in the Southern Tier region. Could go on extensively about it if I wasn't....you know. It's worth a read if you're interested in the subject. In summary though: Finger Lakes is screwed. In another example of something that those who wrote this law and created the gerrymandered Southern Tier region obviously didn't think about: Finger Lakes, only 27 miles from where Lago is supposed to be built, will not have purses supported by the Lago casino at 2013 levels because it is in Region 6. But Tioga Downs, which is nearly two hours away, will receive purse support because it's in the same Southern Tier region. Go figure that one out. Estimates as to how much business Finger Lakes will lose range from 21% (the study commissioned by Lago) to 50% (the track's estimate). Guess we can figure the real damage will be somewhere in between.
- Business is brisk for commercial real estate developers in Schenectady now that casino gambling is coming there.
Among those looking to benefit are property owners on a stretch of Erie Boulevard west of the casino site that has a hodge-podge of businesses and buildings, some of which are run-down, empty or not fully utilized. [Biz Journals]All well and good....but these folks are presuming that the casino customers are going to stray outside the gaming floor that the Rivers Casino will be doing their best to keep them at. So, that's one of the many assumptions about these casinos that we'll just have to wait and see how they turn out.
- Nassau OTB has settled on the old Fortunoff's building on Old Country Road in Westbury for its VLT parlor. Those of you from my generation who grew up at the NY harness tracks know that Roosevelt was right there, so the location is more than just a bit ironic. It's also infuriating to some residents of the area.
Some local residents told Fox 5 it doesn't belong there and that they fear increased traffic and crime. The issue has even taken to social media with a Facebook page called Stop the Casino at Fortunoff. It has more than 1,700 likes. [MYFOXNY]That all sounds quite familiar from the recent casino bidding. What is quite different though is that these residents didn't have a chance to express their concerns directly to the decision makers like those in the cities and towns targeted for casinos did (for whatever that was worth for those in Tyre). So, you can't blame those opposed to this gambling facility for being outraged.
- And finally, I noticed this photo essay in the Times.
Thoroughbred horse racing provides one of the great American spectacles: the magnificently chiseled athletes, the elemental contest of speed and power, the libidinal rush of personal fortunes won or lost by the margins of a split second. The photographer Theo Zierock, who spent last winter shooting Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, found none of that. What he found instead was a decaying building populated by lonely old men.Well, first of all, I have to presume that "last winter" means a year ago. So, in addition to its appearance at this time being totally random, there have been improvements made to the facility since then; so that it's a bit less of a dump now than it was then. More importantly, it seems to me that if the photographer Theo Zierock really wanted to take photos of magnificently chiseled athletes, the elemental contest of speed and power, and the libidinal rush of personal fortunes won or lost by the margins of a split second rather than of lonely old men, he surely could have done so.
I myself have not been to the Big A since it opened in the fall; and, believe it or not, I can honestly say from this paradise that I don't miss it at all. I wouldn't call it a boycott. I just don't want to go there.
When I first started writing this blog ten years ago this month, this was one of my favorite times of the year to go to the track in NY. Forget the dismal inner track racing; I'd get there at 4 PM and spend the rest of the afternoon/early evening betting on races from Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, Santa Anita, and just about whatever else was offered. Can't say how many other people were there in the back rooms of the second floor of the clubhouse; but the atmosphere was crackling. It was hardcore, but in a comfortable, if not elegant, setting. Over the last decade, with the continued deterioration of the plant - particularly in my second floor hangout, where the only attention paid was the unfortunate decision to install those horrible desk units, which totally changed the ambiance for the worse- combined with the ease of wagering at home, it has become a place where I don’t particularly want to spend the afternoon. I can't really remember the last time I walked in and wasn't wondering, within an hour, why the hell I was there.
I know, it's been prettied-and-cleaned up. But a prettied-and-cleaned-up dump is still a dump. And the old haunts on the second floor is the pleasantly functional Longshots bar that they now want even NYRA Rewards members to pay $5 to enter. I find that I just don’t want to pay that. It's not that the five bucks is gonna make me broke. I just don't want to pay it. Nor do I want to pay for overpriced food and drink. I'm just not interested in being an ATM for these guys in their pursuit of the mythical "profitable without slots" holy grail.
As we've noted, this whole notion of being "profitable without slots" is just a number on a piece of paper that means nothing in the real world. NYRA is dependent on slots revenue to support the purses that they use to compete with other slots states, and to promote their "big days," scheduled to be even bigger this year (oh joy). The slots revenue earmarked for capital projects allows NYRA to modernize their facilities in ways that facilitate increased revenue, mutuel and otherwise. And it no doubt helps to lessen the occurrence of maintenance and repair problems/emergencies that they'd have to pay for out of their operating expenses. So the idea that a number on an income statement means that NYRA could truly be profitable without slots is a fictional one. However, it is a number that will earn Chris Kay more bonuses and be highlighted on his resume when he moves on to his next gig. I do think that Kay is earnest about wanting horse racing to prosper in New York. But we also know that this is merely a step in his corporate career, and success, even if defined on his own terms, would be quite the feather in the cap.
None of the above is to belittle the pursuit of a NYRA that is able to prosper without the miserable machines next door, even though the political pressure to do so seems to have eased, at least for now. The last regime wanted to move in that direction organically, by replacing the void left by NYC OTB. This regime is doing so by trying to bleed the money from its customers. Speak to you again soon.