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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Big A Streams Back to Action

Action resumes at the Big A on Wednesday, and could it be that slots will be in operation there before racing moves to Belmont? After all, Genting's original plans called for 1,600 machines up and running within six months after contract approval. That approval came on September 14 when DiNapoli signed off on the deal. So, that would put slots at the track by Wood Memorial day! (Not that I'm holding my breath.)

Wednesday also marks the debut of live streaming of NYRA races on the NYRA Rewards site. Gee, that's a revolutionary least here in New York State it is! Whatsmore, they'll soon stream races from out-of-town tracks as well. I haven't had much experience with other ADW sites, so I can't say which is best. But NYRA's site is pretty great in my opinion. It's a user-friendly interface, they take every thoroughbred track that I know of, you can transfer money from your checking account in about 30 seconds, and they've really ramped up the efficiency - I was betting Breeders' Cup races this past November with mere minutes to post, and the site was lightning fast. So the addition of the live races really seals the deal. (Note: NYRA is a sponsor of this website.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Numbers Game

On its website, HANA plays a little footloose and fancy free with the numbers to make the California takeout increase seem more odious to horseplayers than it actually is.

On Jan 01, 2011 California Exacta Takeout will Increase by 9.7% to 22.68% - giving California one of the highest exacta takeout rates in North America.

On Jan 01, 2011 California Trifecta Takeout will Increase by 14.51% to 23.68%.
In fact, the rates are going up from 20.68%, an increase of 2% and 3% respectively. If we were talking about dollar amounts, you would correctly say that the price is going up 9.7% from $20.68 to $22.68, and 14.51% from $20.68 to $23.68. But percentage points are percentage points, and we generally express such changes in absolute terms, not by percentages of percentages. If the mortgage rates go up from 4% to 5%, we say that the rate has gone up by one percentage point, not by 25%.

That's despite the fact that a change in percentage can have different implications for the dollar amounts involved. Cangamble correctly points out that an increase from 3% to 4% on a line of credit means a 33% increase in payments. But that's a random example; the percentage dollar increase varies with the rate. If it increases from 9% to 10%, the payments would increase 11%. If you're borrowing from Cash Call and the rate goes from 99% to 100%, then the payments increase by only 1%.

Similarly, and in the pari-mutuel world, an increase in takeout percentage can mean different things for different people. On Monday, approximately $967,000 was bet at Santa Anita on exactas. Under the present takeout of 20.68%, the house takes out just around $200,000, and returns $767,000 to the players. When the new rate of 22.68% takes effect, the house would take some $219,315, and return the remaining $747,685. The increase to the state of $19,315 is HANA's 9.7% "takeout increase." But the decrease in the payout to players is only around 2.5%. So I think that HANA is using deceptive numbers to make their case. (And some in the racing press has bought right into it.) Whatsmore....and I'm sure I'll get flamed for saying this....I think that a reasonable person could make the case that increasing its take by 10 to 15 percent with the goal of increasing purses while costing players "only" a small percentage of winnings is not an unreasonable nor harshly unfair way to address the crisis faced by the industry in the state.

What exactly is my point here? Well, reader Indulto proposes that the boycott rubs me the wrong way, and I'd concede that point. HANA annoys me with, among other things, their silly track ratings, as is apparent if you've been following my posts on the group, and I'll admit that my perception of this matter is shaded by that. On the other hand though, it seems to me that there's a high level of animosity on the part of the boycott proponents towards the CHRB and TOC; I've read posts and comments in which the criticism of those groups has become highly personal. Maybe that's why, as some commenters on this site have noted, they don't project nearly the same animosity towards other racing jurisdictions with even higher takeouts on some bets than will be the case in California.

Having said that, I'll reiterate that I'm not in favor of higher takeouts, and I think that the increase in California is short-sighted and likely to fail in its quest to attract large high-quality fields through higher purses. But, as I've said (perhaps inelegantly and in a regrettable pique of anger), horseplayers have it pretty good these days. Sitting at their computers and with their HANA takeout charts as their guide if takeout is of primary importance to their goals, they can pick and choose from virtually any track in North America. So, boycott away if you wish. But, in my opinion, this is a local issue of relatively minor magnitude that is not worthy of investing a national movement. That should be saved, as steve in nc points out, for more profound causes. It's not like increasing takeout is a current fad spreading throughout the country that needs to be snuffed out. On the contrary, HANA has done an excellent job in pushing the issue of lower rates to the forefront of the industry's consciousness. California has a problem, and, like many businesses, they've decided to raise their prices. Don't play their tracks if you don't like it. But let the rest of us decide for ourselves.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Xmas!

Another column about the California boycott that I'm not completely in sync with is the one by Steve Davidowitz. While in favor of the boycott in principle, Davidowitz argues that this is not the right time; that the movement should wait until wagering patterns are established to the point where the effect of a boycott could be clearly demonstrated. And, he says:

Because the handle may not be negatively impacted by anything anytime soon given that southern California players have wanted to handicap and play races on dirt for too long to suddenly abandon such plans.
That's the part I don't quite get; not saying that I at all disagree with him that this will happen. But I would question horseplayers who claim that they've been discerning enough to have avoided synthetic tracks on the grounds that the results are too undependable; but would now rush in at the beginning of this meet and pour in pent-up betting dollars on dirt races which feature horses whose only such races have come at Fairplex. It's not very discerning in my view to leap in with abandon at this point without letting some form develop. Then you're just betting on dirt just for the sake of it, and just to drive home the point that you hate synthetics without thinking more about your my opinion, anyway.

That's the kind of bumper sticker mentality that I sense from HANA on the takeout issue - either my way or the highway, brook no dissent, you're either with us or against us, and just shut up if the latter. HANA recommends that players refrain from even reading the past performances of California tracks. If those who commented on the last post actually took the time to actually read it and the past post I referred to, they'd know that I've never suggested that I'm in favor of higher takeout; only that its significance varies to different horseplayers depending upon what they're looking to get out of their racetrack experience. But there's no room for nuance of any kind, just like the Tea Party to whom I compared the group in that post from earlier in the year. California is in a bad spot right now with slots out of the question, and the CHRB sees higher takeout on exotics as a way to enhance purses, and thus attract and retain horses to fatten its fields and increase its handle. Is that a good idea? I'd say that it's not; rather, it's one borne out of the desperation of the situation. But one thing I don't see from HANA or in Finley's column is an alternative solution to the industry's immediate woes. Other than, of course, lowering the takeout, which may indeed bear fruit over a longer period of time. But unfortunately, it doesn't, in the short-term, suit an industry already reeling from declining handle in these difficult times.

HANA says they only have California racing's best interests in mind. But then, on their rambling Players Boycott site, they actually suggest that players wager on California races through offshore outlets that return nothing to the tracks, to the horsemen, to the backstretch workers, or to anyone. That's destructive and self-serving to the point that it suggests to me that they're really only interested in themselves.

- Brad Free reports that the main dirt track is fast (though the forecast calls for a 50% chance of showers tonight into tomorrow morning). No word on turf racing, which is too bad, as I'd like to focus on those races given the difficulties handicapping the dirt races that I described above. And I wouldn't mind taking a stab against Sidney's Candy (8-5) in the G2 Sir Beaufort given the soft conditions from a foot of recent rain, and the presence of the speedy Blue Panis breaking from the rail. Make Music For Me (8-1) showed much promise on the AWT at two, and in winning an overnight stakes over this course in his three-year old debut before an ill-fated journey on the Derby Trail (though he did rally for 4th in the big race). Always like to see a talented horse like this recover as he did with his win, with blinkers off, on the turf over entry-level allowance company that he was still amazingly eligible for. Interesting runner, but a big step up here; still, might be worth a shot here wheeling back two weeks later with Mike Smith, who rode him in that stakes win, returning to the saddle, though I'd want more than his 6-1 morning line. Bogie (8-1) returns from a six month layoff from a narrow loss in a G3 turf stakes; nice works, eligible to step up here. Sebastian Flyte (3-1) may prefer longer.

In the wide-open Malibu, Twirling Candy (3-1) cuts back to a sprint after faltering late as the favorite in his tough assignment against older horses in the G1 Goodwood. Surface aside, he looks like a solid choice here. However, as you may know, I'm a strong believer in the Harvey Pack mantra to never bet a favorite doing something it's never done before. Noble's Promise (5-1) is a colt who piqued my interest in the spring, and he gave a good account of himself in the Derby despite his own trainer's misgivings about his distance ability. Now he's apparently committed to the sprinting game, and comes off a solid win, on dirt and with a 102 Beyer, in a six furlong stakes at Churchill. Good tactical speed should put him in good position in this large field. Smiling Tiger (7-2) has never been out of the money, and ran quite well on dirt finishing third in the BC Sprint; obvious contender. Brad Free writes in the Form that there's a buzz for Setsuko (20-1). Although he has not raced since April, Setsuko has trained super for his race-8 comeback. This will be, however, his first sprint effort since his career debut Sept 2009.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Takeout

Well, it's almost that time. For Santa Anita, of course, and the much-anticipated - by a lot of people other than me - return to dirt racing there; and the grand opening day card featuring two gloriously full-fielded Grade 1 races to mark the occasion.

Hovering over the festivities however is the talk of a bettors' boycott over the rise in the takeout rates for exotic wagers. I discussed my feelings about the takeout issue in this post (one of my most popular in terms of response in 2010). And again, if you HANA guys want to spend Sunday betting on Turfway instead of Santa Anita because its cut on triples is 1.68% lower, that's up to you, and fine with me. Since you're such smart guys, your money going elsewhere should create enough value at SA to more than make up for the takeout anyway!

In a much blogged-about post encouraging the boycott, Bill Finley wrote:

There's nothing wrong with putting more money into the pockets of owners, trainers and jockeys but to do so at the expense of the downtrodden horseplayers is, frankly, sinister. No one is more deserving of a break than the people who bet on horses. They are what make everything in this sport go and they have had to put up with nothing but abuse, starting with takeout levels that make the game all but impossible to beat. Now they want to take even more money out of the Average Joe's pocket. This is criminal. []
Whoa, Bill Finley. I don't really buy the concept of the "downtrodden horseplayer." I certainly don't put myself in that category, do you? Quite the opposite; as I count my blessings during this joyous time of year, top amongst them is the fact that I'm lucky enough to have enough disposable income to participate in my favorite game, and the temperament to do so as a pastime rather than out of compulsion. I know a couple of people who have to stay away due to the latter. Anybody who truly falls into the downtrodden category probably needs to find something else to do, or seek appropriate counseling.

Finley seems a bit hysterical here overall. He makes it sound like people are herded into the track and forced to bet. In fact, nobody is taking any money out of Average Joe's pocket here. The Average Joe doesn't go to the track. Instead, he's downtrodden and abused by the MTA, cable and satellite TV providers, health insurance companies...and I could certainly get more morose than those. So, lighten up, man.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Busy Time

I'm not in a parallel universe, just really busy, y'know, it's a busy time of year. Not to mention that the finance department at my job just went from a three-man department to two, and the other one besides me doesn't do that much. He doesn't read this blog. And we're busy getting ready for the Head Chef's annual Xmas feast, with a total of 25 guests, mostly from her side of the family, descending upon our humble home in Queens. None of them read this blog either, so I could dish the dirt on them, but they're all pretty nice I guess, and it's the holiday season, after all.

So I haven't had time to blog - other than to post the triumphant Jets photo to the right (and believe me, I was tempted to post a photo of DeSean Jackson instead.) (And OK, I can't help myself.)

Oh man!

Anyway, as El Angelo mentioned, not too much going on in the racing world this time of year anyway. There were a couple of local stories that didn't inspire me to find the time. Gary Pretlow had his hearing on consolidating the OTB's, but as far I'm concerned, that's totally beside the point. Joe Faraldo testified that there should be a third entity....created made up of a consortium of track people, horsemen, and breeders; in fact, there should be just two entities - or one, if you will - with the current OTB system put out to pasture for good, and the show run by, and to the benefit of, those who provide the content.

With NYC OTB gone (for now), NYRA and Yonkers should of course be able to create their own off track betting facilities which would supplement their business instead of cannibalizing it. It's so obvious that it becomes unthinkable in the bizarro world of Albany. Both tracks could, perhaps in partnership, open appealing facilities and install smart people like me to run them. Mine would be the coolest in the world; racing, Stella on tap, hip indie rock, and political lectures spanning the entire ideological spectrum, from progressives, to left-leaning moderates, all the way to open-minded gay and lesbian Republicans who voted for Obama.

Then there was the little flap about NYRA executives getting raises. Another so what story in my view. These guys brought the association back from the stone-cold dead, playing its hand flawlessly in executing its unlikely rally against the odds to retain the franchise. In the difficult period since then, NYRA nursed their meager cash flow, withstood repeated and unfair and ignorant attacks by politicians and the press alike, and made exactly the right threats at exactly the right times, successfully placing the onus on a clueless and ultimately acquiescent legislature which was never willing to allow it to go beyond the brink. Damn fucking straight they deserve raises.

Actually, most of us will have a little extra money in our pockets to piss away at the track come January 1. That's when the tax package that the president agreed to with the Republicans takes effect. And that 2% reduction in the social security rate means that percentage of your gross salary added to your paycheck. That's stimulus for sure, and one which I think will be more apparent to many folks than the modest one-time tax rebates we've seen in the recent past. The GOP may have accommodated their financial base by maintaining their tax cuts (while at the same time hypocritically decrying the deficit). But let's see them defend those rates for the richest 2% two years hence with the White House on the line, when the economy will be on a better track but with the deficit barely dented. I think it will prove to be a popular initiative which will reflect better on the president than on the Republicans; and a brilliant political move which will give him a potent campaign weapon in 2012.

Having subsequently repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the Start treaty apparently headed towards ratification, the president is on a roll, and could bring a bit of a swagger into the more difficult political environment he'll face when the Republicans come to town in January.

Yeah, as I said, not too much going on in racing. Don't know if I'll be back before Xmas. Maybe I'll do my top ten albums of the year - I know you're really holding your breath for that. If not, then here's wishing you a safe, healthy, and joyously content holiday season. Peace.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Itchy Times Columnist Blasts Big A

NYRA issued a press release trumpeting "double digit" increases in on-track attendance and handle at Aqueduct on Saturday, when 5,444 showed up, as opposed to 3,378 last year. 164 of those customers arrived via the new free bus service, and there seemed to be steady business at the information booth on the first floor, which has been transformed into a sign-up center for NYRA Rewards.

Indeed, there seemed to be something happening there. The numbers may still be small from a historical standpoint. But so is the part of the track presently in use; so the place seemed full and - I'd go as far as to say - vibrant on Saturday. It had me thinking of The Simpsons episode in which the Itchy and Scratchy show goes off the air, and kids all over Springfield rediscover - albeit just temporarily as it turns out - the joys of the playgrounds and the great outdoors. Of course, NYC OTB has aptly played the role of Itchy to NYRA's Scratchy over the years, tying the sport's tongue with dynamite and blowing off its head. So, despite the dire warnings we've heard from some corners regarding the closing of NYC OTB, it feels to me like a time of opportunity for the beleaguered industry.

Of course, an outside observer may not be at all impressed. Clyde Haberman writes in the New York Times that, at the Big A, there may be More Bettors, But Little Sign of Life. Haberman writes the NYC column for the Paper of Record, and there he chronicles the various and sundry injustices and inequities afflicted upon the working class heroes of the city by politicians and others in positions of power. His points of view on matters political and ethical generally comport rather well with my own.

And indeed, even this hardcore Aqueduct veteran finds it difficult to argue with many of his points here. His observation that the view of the track from the A train "can make you think that you’re bound for a cement factory" actually might be kind. It's the sad truth that a typical weekday crowd is "barely enough people to fill two subway trains." The Champs Sports Bar he visited on the first floor is a worn and weary setting that hasn't been renovated in decades; and he missed the photo of the Rangers' 1940 Stanley Cup team in his observation of the sorely outdated mementos on the wall. (Though he might have taken the time to head upstairs to the more inviting Equestris level if he was interested in filing a fairer report.)

His recitation of off-track handle versus wagering on-track - "That ratio of about nine to one was not significantly different from that of a comparable Saturday last December" - as well as the sad decline of crowd figures over the years, are merely the facts. And his suggestion that the land might be put to better use - "perhaps for parks or for reasonably priced housing, which goodness knows the city sorely needs," is a fair point and in keeping with his usual long, that is, that he's not forgetting about the tens of thousands of people state-wide who make their living in the industry.

But where Haberman blows it entirely is in his snarky closing.

The place brings back memories of a visit two decades ago to Macao, then a rather seedy gambling haven administered by Portugal. While waiting for a cab to the main casino, we chatted with a South Korean businessman who was a regular visitor to the territory.

“The thing about Macao is that when you lose, you feel lousy,” he said in English, “but even when you win, you feel lousy.”

Aqueduct is kind of like that.
Here, the writer reveals without a doubt that he's simply not knowledgeable enough on the subject at hand to pass judgment on a sport which still attracts large and enthusiastic crowds in the appropriate settings, and, despite the declines, still generates over $10 billion annually in handle nationwide. After all, anybody with any experience whatsoever knows that when you win a bet on a horse race, you feel great. No matter where you might be, even in one of those repugnant - and increasingly defunct with each passing day - NYC OTB parlors. So this column thus becomes just another weak and gratuitous cheap shot by a know-nothing outsider on a convenient and manifestly easy target; fodder for a column on a slow news week with the state legislature out of session and the mayor in a mellow mood. He should have stuck with Cathie Black.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday News and Notes

I know you don't mind if I toot my own horn once in a blue moon. I mean, I haven't picked many winners of late, and I don't make much money doing this, so I get to indulge myself occasionally, right?

So, perhaps you've sometimes noticed that you read something here, and then you read it in the mainstream press later on. On Thursday morning, I postulated that NYRA only needs to capture about a third of wagers that were placed through NYC OTB to break even. Later on, Charlie Hayward was quoted putting the figure at 35%, in the first public statement I've seen attempting to quantify the situation in those terms, as I did. Also, I've been emphasizing the need for live streaming for NYRA Rewards and other in-state ADW's for days; posted an explanation as to what the problem is, and now that issue is all over the press. So, just sayin'.

Intra-state off-track wagering declined 39% on Thursday from last week; but NYRA made up some ground on track, where they drew 2704 (vs 2101 last Thursday) who wagered $536,000 (vs $475,000).

NYRA intensifies their efforts to attract the valuable on-track handle with the opening of Belmont as an OTB of their own, and an effort to renew live racing on Channel 71.

Yonkers conducted their first card since the shutdown, and attracted a total handle of $562,386; that as opposed to $802,386 last Thursday. That's a decline of nearly 30%. And Friday and Saturday night they'll be more harness competition, with the Meadowlands and Saratoga having been dark on Thursday. The harness guys, bitterly opposed to the Senate bill - no less the GOP bill - remain steadfastly upbeat.

"While the closure of New York City Off Track Betting will obviously generate short term challenges for New York’s harness racing industry, in the long term it also presents an opportunity to re-think off-track wagering in the state altogether. [Statement by Empire State Harness Horsemen's Alliance]
Indeed. But handle declines such as Thursday's, and the political realities of racing and wagering in New York, could have a sobering effect before too long.

- In the second at the Big A on Friday (which, with the OTB on Park Place closed and the NYRA Rewards site blocked by my employer's internet police, I have little chance of actually betting on), Deceptive late gain is the trouble line comment for the second place finish of Kinkora (5-2) in her last. That's a new one for me. Further examination of the race provides some context; winner Silver Horseshoe was said to have appeared choppy-gaited nearing the sixteenth pole, and was vanned off after the race. Still, Kinkora finished well, in 12.73 seconds, after laying closer to the pace with blinkers added. So I think it would be deceptive to read too much into that comment. Third place finisher Honest Gold missed by a nose in each of her next two starts.

Cautionary Tale (8-1) finished far behind Kinkora that day, but showed solid improvement at 41-1 in her last, closing for third in lively splits of 12 1/5 and 12 2/5 for trainer John Hertler, who won three in a row from 11/26 through 12/5 (two others since then). That last race has come back strong; besides the aforementioned Honest Gold, the first of her two aforementioned seconds, 5th place finisher Suroof won her next (on the turf) with an 85 Beyer; and the 6th place Alla Prima won off by 20 at Suffolk. Not much speed for Cautionary Tale, but seems worth a shot for at least a piece at that price. Arena Elvira (6-5) has burned money before, comes off a layoff with a big workout gap, and ran her fastest race on a wet track, rated good. I'm stretching here perhaps in an attempt to beat chalk who holds class, speed, and tactical edges, but she can beat me at that price, I won't mind too much. I can't bet the race anyway.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Day After

A crowd of 2,651 attended Aqueduct on Wednesday, the first day of no OTB in New York; as opposed to 2,061 on Nov 24, the prior Wednesday of racing (last week was rained out). Intra-state handle was down from $1.64 million to $862,361. That's 46.9%, above the 40% figure that's been thrown around as the percentage of the state's handle that NYC OTB handled. Add all the handle, including the inter-state wagering, together, and the total handle declined some 17%.

The trick for NYRA is to capture as much business on track as it can either on track or through NYRA Rewards. 61 of the Aqueduct attendees signed up for NYRA Rewards accounts, according to David Grening in the Form.

NYRA reported that 56 new NYRA One accounts had been opened from Friday through Monday.
That's good news for NYRA, which holds a huge advantage over the other state tracks with its NYRA Rewards ADW platform. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying things, but, given that NYRA collects its full on-track share of those wagers, it seems to me that NYRA would have to capture one-third of the wagers placed on its races at NYC OTB in order to break even on the deal. Perhaps that's why Charles Hayward told Grening that neither the possibility of purse cuts at the current Aqueduct meet nor a reduction of racing dates was discussed at a NYRA board meeting.

On the other hand:
Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John Sabini Sabini said Wednesday that some racetracks “made informal inquiries” regarding a reduction in racing dates, though he would not say which ones. [DRF]
The harness horsemen railed against the provision in the failed OTB bill that would have reduced racing dates, so I imagine that any such reductions due to the bill's failure would be a bitter pill.

The NYS Racing and Wagering Board met in a special session, and took some steps to help keep wagering dollars in state - easier and quicker registration, and double rewards points for new NYRA signups. What would really help NYRA of course is if it could provide live streaming of its races. And that's more complicated.

Thanks to Joseph Mahoney of the Board, who explained in an email that Section 1003 of the racing law - written before the internet age and originally intended to apply mainly to in-home simulcasting - provides that NYRA could only stream state-wide if it has reciprocal agreements to do so with each of the regional OTB's. "For example if NYRA had an agreement with Nassau OTB then NYRA and Nassau OTB could provide video streaming/in-home simulcasting in Nassau's region -- but only in Nassau's region, and nowhere else in New York State, unless they entered into other agreements with other OTBs. NYRA would have to have agreements with each of the states 6 regional OTBs to video stream in the entire state." That of course raises the question of what happens if there is no OTB in a particular region....presently the case in NYC.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

OTB Comes Up Short

The failure of the NYC OTB bill in the State Senate was, in one sense, simply a numbers game. Specifically, the number of Democrats who were not present for the special session. By my count, compiled from various reports, there were five; including Senate President Malcolm Smith, who was tarnished in the AEG report; Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, tarnished in several scandals, and Senator Kevin Parker, who was being tarnished with a misdemeanor assault criminal mischief conviction (related to an assault) in a Brooklyn courthouse. Man, what a crew.

Senator Ruben Diaz Sr, an anti-gambling zealot, was also reported missing; as was Senator Liz Kruger, who said she had agreed to be a reluctant 32nd and deciding vote and thus didn't show when she learned that the 31st vote wasn't there.

On the other hand though, you had the Republicans, playing the obstructionist card that they play so well. I know I've been harsh on the Senate Democrats, and for excellent reason; but the prospect of the GOP returning to power in the chamber (even if the new governor approves), is surely no more comforting. Their nondescript Majority Leader-to-be Dean Skelos offers absolutely nothing other than scripted soundbites and regurgitated party lines. He was so desperate to regain power that he scraped the scummy bottom of the Democratic barrel in last summer's ridiculous and sophomoric coup which brought the government to a virtual halt. So much for his interest in "governing."

According, again, to various published reports I read, there were anywhere from five to ten Republicans willing to support the Assembly bill as is; but only two bucked their leadership's edict of 'no;' one of them the representative from Saratoga, the other the lame duck Frank Padavan from Queens. As usual Skelos tried to portray the Democrats as the obstructors, playing the old Long-Island-and-upstate vs NYC card.

“We’ve tried to open up negotiations for the last few days to come up with a global solution to help all the OTBs throughout the state, and all we’ve received is, no.” [Capitol Confidential]
The last time I looked though, NYC OTB was the only OTB in Chapter 9 bankruptcy facing closure within hours. Not to mention the only one which handles almost 40% of handle in the state. The GOP bill amounted to a handout to the regional OTB's which, unlike NYC, would not have had to make any concessions at all. (NYRA insisted that it would put them and, by extension, the rest of the state industry out of business.) Skelos can spin all he wants; it was his party which said no to jobs for the usual petty partisan reasons.

The Republicans don't believe that NYC OTB will actually close (and we can at least partially thank Sandy Frucher for that). It seems pretty clear though that the parlors will be shuttered on Wednesday. Tom Precious reports, on, on what could be next:
If the OTB shuts down, it could also spark a new round of talks involving the sides in the coming days or weeks. A whole range of possibilities emerge if the OTB does close – from new efforts to reorganize how OTB wagering is conducted in New York to the NYCOTB having its more lucrative parts picked over by gambling interests.
I certainly wouldn't be surprised if NYC OTB is resurrected at some point and in some form down the line. Maybe even in a format which actually benefits the industry instead of feeding off it.

As for the short-term consequences for the industry, we shall see. Nobody knows for sure how much of the business can be retained in-state. Officials such as the State Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John Sabini are sounding a dire alarm.
“A pebble hitting the water causes a ripple – but this is a boulder hitting the pond..
“Now, not only will NYC OTB workers lose their jobs, but every segment of the racing industry – from feed store owners to horsemen to those who board the equine athletes – will feel negative consequences. Every county in New York State will experience an adverse impact."
Personally, I think that once the politicians of both stripes realize the scope of those potential consequences, we'll see those new talks about which Precious speculates above. I'm not ready to write the epitaph quite yet. I'll believe it when I see a Starbucks go up on at 107-40 Queens Blvd. in Forest Hills (one of the parlors which will remain open for six days to cash tickets and refund account balances).

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Welcome to the Big A

Jerry Bossert reports in the News that around 50 people took advantage of the free bus service provided by NYRA to the Big A from several OTB locations around the city on Saturday. That of course is despite the fact that the parlors will remain open at least until the state legislature decides its fate this week. Makes you wonder why the idea of luring OTB customers to their tracks with free transportation and other incentives is just occurring to NYRA now. Given the fact that their business is worth three times on track than through OTB, it probably would have been a worthwhile endeavor before it reached the crisis stage. Maybe some OTB potatoes just need a little nudging to realize what they're missing....yes, even at the Big A, even in its current state.

In fact, the announced crowd of 6,532 seems squarely on the high side for a routine Saturday - only 200 less than that for the holiday fest card the week before, and far more than the 3,935 that made it out the week before that - so maybe some OTB customers had made anticipatory plans to make it out there all by themselves.

I was also told that NYRA had a better than usual day of signing up customers for its NYRA Rewards wagering platform, a crucial element for the industry to survive and thrive should NYC OTB shut down. The Racing Form included ads by out-of-state competitors trying to capitalize on the situation. Rumors About Your OTB Shutting Down? read one. Forced to switch where you play? read one by Xpress Bet (which stupidly failed to emphasize the fact that they have live streaming, way to go there, Frank).

The Senate could approve the bill passed by the Assembly on Tuesday, though many doubt that the necessary votes are there.

The Senate Democratic majority admits it is five to seven votes short of the 32 necessary to pass the bill and will need help from the Senate GOP, which has insisted on a more comprehensive solution. [NY Daily News]
That comprehensive solution comes in the form of a bill sponsored by Republican Senator Andrew Lanza that would, amongst other things, extend to the state's other OTB's the breaks in payment rates to the tracks and the state that the Assembly bill grants to NYC OTB. The GOP bill however does not require from the regionals the types of concessions faced by NYC OTB, which will cut its work force and give up its internet and phone wagering accounts.

Lanza's bill also contains a provision to prohibit the out-of-state ADW's from taking bets from New York state residents; as is the case in New Jersey. Such a law could actually prove to be a savior to the industry here should the OTB plan fail. However, long overdue and common sense action to allow NYRA to stream live races, take wagers on harness races, and end the restrictions on the hours it can operate, would go a long way towards helping them compete without such draconian action.

Obviously, NYRA and the other tracks would not be happy with the rest of the GOP bill and the further cuts in revenue it would bring. And nor would the Assembly, which would then be called upon to reconvene in order to consider that plan.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver this week made it clear he's not inclined to return to bring his members back to Albany to pass a different OTB rescue bill after his members passed one Tuesday. [NYDN]
- I also saw a timely ad from Empire City at Yonkers Raceway on the way to the track. A billboard overlooking Rockaway Blvd just a half mile away informed us that slots were "moments, not months away." An ad which will - presumably - have a relatively short life span indeed.

Friday, December 03, 2010

To OTB, Or Not OTB?

The State Senate is now planning to reconvene on Tuesday in order to conduct an up-or-down vote on the bill to reorganize NYC OTB that was approved by the Assembly. But OTB chairman Larry Schwartz says: "There's not [the needed] 32 votes in the Senate to pass the same bill that the Assembly passed, so the plan to close OTB [after Friday] remains." [NYDN] But you didn't really think they would go dark without some additional drama, did you?

Republican senators indicated that they might be amenable to a rescue.....if it includes relief for other OTB's around the state.

"The OTB system overall needs redesigning and rebuilding," said Senate GOP honcho Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton).
Oh great, you're first realizing that now??

Any variation on the Assembly bill would require that chamber to return to Albany as well; which, Casey Seiler of the Times Union's Capitol Confidential says, seems about as likely as a visit from St. Nicholas (sorry to our younger readers, but this means “unlikely”).

Meanwhile, NYRA is preparing for the post-OTB age by preparing free bus service to the Big A from five would-be shuttered parlors around the city. Any OTB patron who transfers his business (not being sexist girls, have you been to an OTB parlor lately?) on track is like the equivalent of three new customers given the difference between NYRA's retention rate on his on-track bets from what it gets through OTB. So you might see Charlie Hayward and Hal Handel roaming the aisles of the buses with NYRA Rewards applications in hand. In fact, it might not be a bad idea to make signing up a condition for the free ride.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Inner Track Time! [Almost]

jp mentioned No Such Word, who won the Gazelle on Saturday in highly impressive fashion. Despite being the outmost of a foursome spread across the track, she just cruised up to the lead on the turn without any urging from Terry Thompson. and reported home in 12.70 for the final furlong. Her final time of 1:51.05 was actually a full second slower than that of the two-year old colt To Honor and Serve; but I'd guess that the ground loss accounted for that. Gotta love her durability too; this was her tenth start of the year.

No Such Word is a daughter (out of an It's Freezing mare) of Canadian Frontier, a Gone West stallion who stands at Airdrie in Kentucky for $3500 and a menu of discounts.

✔ 10% discount on all stud fees paid by Nov 1.
✔ 10% discount for 2 mares to the same sire.
✔ 15% discount for 3 or more mares to the same sire.
Rough time for breeders as you know.

Dubai Dancer, the 2-1 second choice in the Gazelle, was just awful; never in it and finished 8th, some 20 lengths behind. Seems hard to explain given her stellar form, including a stakes win around two turns, since returning to action in August. They say that fillies sometimes throw in a bad one, and perhaps she was just having a bad day. Races like the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup become so magnified to the point where every aspect of the race is scrutinized in far more detail, as we saw in the incident involving Life At Ten in the Distaff. Could very well be that, if Jerry Bailey was there to interview Ramon Dominguez for ESPN before the race, he would have said that the filly wasn't warming up well. Probably happens all the time....if not to the extreme degree that we heard and saw on Breeders Cup Friday.

- Yes folks, it's that time again as the inner track opens for business at the Big A on Wednesday. [UPDATE: Oops, canceled today, will have to wait.] The turf course remains open however as December starts; no less than three scheduled on the card (though there's been a persistent light rain around most of Tuesday which is supposed to drag into the morning). All of you global warming skeptics might take a look at a chart showing how late the turf course at Aqueduct has been operational over the years. That should convince you.