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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Comic Relief Wynns The Day

- After the drama of the first day of the New York franchise presentations, it sounds as if there was some comic relief during day two, during which Capital Play and Excelsior made their cases. A reader admonished me for relying too much on third party accounts of the hearings, which is a fair point. But I must say that it's unfortunate that us fans downstate have to rely on just that. With all due respect to our friends up in Saratoga, two-thirds of the affected tracks are in the New York City area, and it seems to me that the Committee With No Name could have conducted one of the sessions down here.

However, Equidaily was there, and posted some audio clips from Wednesday's session, so you can hear for yourself that the quotes that follow are accurate. (I suppose these are Equidaily exclusives, so I won't link to them directly from here).

Capital Play touted their plan, which includes a handout of $50 million to the city of Saratoga to do what they want with it. President Karl O'Farrell said he would love to install "a beautiful fence" around the oldest track in the country [Glens Falls Post Star]. HUH? What's that for, to keep out illegal immigrants? The company also mocked the recent crowd at the Wood, and O'Farrell showed images of how to market the tracks heavily in New York City with giant banners on buildings and posters on construction fencing and in subway cars similar to those used by the fashion industry. [Albany Times Union] If only it was as simple as that; while NYRA hasn't hung any banners from the Empire State Building, they've advertised on billboards and in the trains for years.

But the highlight of the hearing was the appearance of Steve Wynn. I'm wondering if maybe Richard Fields isn't wishing he instead went into the Yankees organization and picked the red-hot Alex Rodriguez instead. When asked for specifics of Excelsior's plans, Wynn supplied responses such as "How we do all that is a heckuva trick, but if we get picked we'll figure it out." and "You either trust us to do this, or you don't....Either we're the right guys to fix it, or we're not. If we are the right guys to fix this, you will get the most money from us"...and "We're here to offer our services....And we expect to make a buck or two." [Daily Racing Form] That's for sure.

He offered one idea after [Jerry] Bailey said he once wore a helmet camera for ESPN-TV during a race. Wynn suggested jockeys could regularly wear cameras and the signals would be beamed on 15-foot television screens in sports bars for bettors.

"You think they'll look? Sure! That's the tomorrow of this," Wynn said. "You do that kind of thing before big crowds and they will catch on." [AP]
And perhaps the most embarrassing quote that I've seen is this, from the aforementioned Equidaily clips:
When asked about the problem racing faces with horse doping, Wynn felt it could be solved at the "snap of a finger":

"Pretty easy to deal with, OK?... These are not the kinds of things that rise to the level of real problems compared to the other ones that you're dealing with here today."
Oh man. Maybe he wants to fit the horses with helmet cameras to tape any suspicious activities.

In a more poignant moment, Jerry Bailey, who is not an equity partner that we know of, but whose presence at least gives the organization some street cred, told the panel about how the deterioration of backstretch conditions over the years.

So where we are now, it's hard to say. We're supposed to believe that Gov. Spitzer is going to make a decision, presumably based on the advice of his panel, by Memorial Day. Whether the Ad Hoc Committee's recommendation of Excelsior carries any weight at all remains to be seen. The departure of the Steinbrenner clan can't help, and there's still that nagging question as to whether Governor Squeaky Clean would award the franchise to his friend and contributor Richard Fields, as well as to his buddy William Mulrow. (And of course, as in the case of Empire, there were no questions that I heard about the possible conflict of interest there.) And there's that tiny matter of the legislature tackling serious reform in the racing laws, which they haven't been willing or able to deal with in 25 years. They have to change the law should the franchise be awarded to a for-profit group. But any talk of further reform to finally solve the OTB mess has clearly faded away. There's been speculation that NYRA will get a one year extension while everything is worked out, and I wouldn't be shocked if that turns out to be the case. This thing has been dragging out longer than last night's Canucks-Stars match, and who would be surprised if there was more overtime on the way.

- Good job by the Saratogian, which filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain a list of the items that were requested from the bidders as part of the integrity reviews. They published them in an editorial the other day
- All foreign and domestic bank accounts (checking, savings, time deposits, certificates of deposit, money market funds) by you, your spouse and dependent children.
- Loans against pension plans, life insurance policies, 401(k) plans.
- Have you, your spouse or dependent children made or received a loan in excess of $10,000?
- Have you filed an insurance claim in excess of $100,000?
- Have you received a referral or finder's fee in excess of $10,000?
- Do you have safety deposit boxes? Names and address of bank and name of person the box is in must be supplied.
- List all real estate interests.
- List other assets such as art collections, the date they were purchased and current value.
- Provide federal and state tax returns for the past three years.

Candidates for public office wouldn't submit to these kinds of invasions. No wonder Marylou Whitney reduced her stake in Empire Racing Associates rather than put together this kind of information. [The Saratogian]


Anonymous said...

Great job finding the Equidaly site and kudos to them as well. I thought I was imagining some of those responses from Wynn but apparently not.

For me, the real star of the hearings was Sen. Sabini. He showed an extraordinary level of awareness of the issues and worked hard to get to the bottom of issues with every bidder. On the other hand, Pretlow was only interested in raising the issue of daily win/VLT, challenging first Empire, then NYRA and lastly Capital Play. Those three came in at around $400-420 and the Pretlow remarked that they were overly optomistic. Interestingly, when he had the chance, Pretlow did not challenge Excelsior on their number of $480 (which was down from the original proposal of over $500!!). When Pretlow was obviously giving Excelsior a pass, Sabini asked them about their projection. That's what led up to Wynn's refusal to guarantee anything in the Excelsior bid.

The other issue I haven't seen raised in other areas is that of the three for-profits ROI goals. Obviously, this doesn't apply to NYRA who plans to put all MGM's profits back into racing, after the state gets its cut and MGM gets their fee and their loan repaid. In order of presentation, Empire quoted 8-11% to shareholders; Capital Play - 30%; and Excelsior 12-15%.

Green Mtn Punter said...

I am really surprised at how Steve Wynn came off at yesterday's hearing in Albany, not at all my recollection of seeing him interviewed on TV. The Excelsior honchos obviously had no idea what to expect; proves once again why the pro's always rehearse before the live performance.Why did they ever allow Wynn to testify about racing in the first place?!That isn't his department for God's sake! He's the razzle dazzle showman from Vegas who knows how to draw the suckers, er, ah, customers in from the Strip to deposit their money into slot machines. Why didn't they assign the racing side testimony to Jerry Bailey who is knowledgable, articulate, and carries very substantial goodwill in Albany? Now we'll see how good their damage control is.

Anonymous said...

Wynn obviously was a last minute addition to the team and it showed. If Excelsior still gets this franchise it is obvious the fix was in all along.

Capital play scares me the most, we know the least about them, they are bidding the most money, and promising a ridiculous ROI to investors. It just does not add up.

So, once again I am back to Empire vs. NYRA, the original bout.

The more I think about it I vote for the nonprofit model of NYRA with some sort of oversight body to make sure they actually put the profits into racing and not expense accounts.

That 10-15% ROI is a lot of money that could better be spent on the product than on rewarding investors.

And of course the side benefit of the land staying off the state's balance sheet.

Anonymous said...

The full audio recordings of the proceedings are available on Governor Spitzer's web page:

They are downloadable.

Wynn did Excelsior a disservice. He clearly wasn't familiar with Excelsior's plan and it showed. It's unfortunate because Excelsior's written material is still head and shoulders above the others. I urge everyone to leaf through all the materials.

NYRA has no answers other than to blame the State; Capital Play has nothing in their proposal at all - no substance.

Empire sounds willing to say anything to get the franchise, including increasing the take-outs because they think that's what the government and OTB's want to hear. Their take-out raise justification: to bring it to the country's average. Steve Crist cleanly illustrated the fallacy of that argument, yet Perlee used it again. Their proposal addendum has racing run by a committee comprised of Magna, Churchill and Delaware North. That's plain scary for New York.