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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Revelry or Refined (And Other Matters of Debate)

Odato reported in the Times Union on Monday that the one-house budgets passed in the NYS Senate and Assembly both include a provision for a portion of VLT money (2.5% of the purse fund) to be used to pay for health insurance for New York jockeys. Man, that's a fine piece of lobbying done by Brian Meara, whose firm is being paid $2,000 monthly to represent the [Jockeys Guild]. [Albany Times Union]  Meara is a familiar name in NY lobbying circles; former aide to Sheldon Silver who used to work for Patricia Lynch before establishing his own firm; and a name that turns up a bunch of results if you search him on this blog.

[Meara] said he figured the time was right to seek some help for health care costs of people in a dangerous and short-lived occupation since Gov. Andrew Cuomo was already seeking to get a cut of VLT funds to pay for horse safety programs.
I'm sure that Meara also figured that the current political climate in which the governor and his budget director has expressed their misgivings about the amount of VLT money that's directed towards the tracks; and the concern these days for the health of horses and jockeys, made it an opportune time to lobby for such a thing.  Slick move.

The problem with the safety angle in this case, as the NY horsemen have pointed out, is that owners are already paying for workers compensation which covers injuries suffered on the track.  The Guild is looking for private health insurance to cover the riders and their families away from work.  That is of course a problem which most contractors and freelancers also deal with.  Seems to me though that should purses be reduced should this provision take effect, the jockeys' portions, based on percentages of earnings, will go down proportionately.  And that they'll end up paying for their health insurance one way or another in the end.

 - Been writing about the success that the Meadowlands has been having in attracting increased nightly handle; and Standardbred Owners Association of New York president Joe Faraldo chimed in on the subject, and not in an admirable nor complimentary way.  Faraldo points out that the handle figures have been aided and abetted by a cartel which, in exchange for a pledge to wager at least $300,000 per card, gets the signal for one-third the price; 2% as compared to 6% for tracks and ADW's. 
  Simply, even if handle is tripled, since the price charged to those responsible for a large component of that handle is a third of what it "sells” to other bettors, both the track and horsemen are still in the same position economically. The addition of gross handle in this fashion produces a zero-sum effect, resulting in no additional revenue being generated to increase purses or add a race day.
It gets tiresome reading the daily pats on the back of growing handle because of all the smart things going on at the Meadowlands -- yet the truth is that there will be no additional race dates and no meaningful purse increases because, the truth be known, on-track handle is flat.
This prompted a scathing response from the View From the Racetrack Grandstand blog which you can read here.  He points out that track operator Jeff Gural has discussed the matter openly, that the increase is of such a magnitude that it very likely far exceeds the cartel's wagering, and that handle feeds upon itself with larger pools attracting eager bettors hungry for liquidity.  He also wonders why Faraldo is chiming in about slots-less New Jersey when he represents horsemen in slots-rich New York. 
I do understand it must be annoying hearing about all these handle improvements at the Meadowlands; especially when Balmoral Park, the Meadowlands, and even Cal-Expo at times handle more money than Yonkers on a nightly basis. After all, what would the horsemen at Yonkers be racing for if not for slots?
Faraldo makes a fair point I think about the possibility of pool manipulation when it comes to computer-aided syndicate betting of this type.  And it's true that the lucrative on-track handle that the Big M needs to really thrive has remained flat.  (It is hoped that the new smaller grandstand under construction on what is now the backstretch will attract players with a slick sports bar type atmosphere; but I'd be skeptical.)   But I also think it's clear that his piece is fueled by his personal enmity for Gural, with whom he's clashed for many years.  His bristling at the stream of good publicity for Gural's track is quite palpable here.

 - Revelry or Refined is the choice presented by America's Best Racing for its Kentucky Derby sweepstakes.  Revelry gets you into the infield at Churchill Downs along with a t-shirt and fanny pack, a motel, and "food."  Refined gets you onto Millionaire's Row, designer clothing, a limo ride from  your hotel, and "fine dining."  The catch is that you get a $5,000 betting voucher for the infield and only $1,000 for the fancy schmancy deal.  That would be a simple choice for me.  The Head Chef would likely disagree.


jk said...

Next up should be real medical insurance for the backstretch workers. Maybe one of the many groups claiming to represent "working families" can step up and do the right thing for this group of hard working folks.

Unknown said...

jk - Both NYRA and NYTHA make significant contributions to B.E.S.T. towards health insurance.

jk said...

Thanks Alan.

Figless said...

Agree completely, jocks are independent contractors, the select where to ride and which horse to ride at that location. They have no contract. They direct benefit from the purse increases, their wages have increased correspondingly.

Why should an owner be forced to pay for health insurance for a professional athlete and their family that spends half the year racing elsewhere?

IF jockeys wish to be covered under this provision they should sign a contract to ride in NY year round, EVERY day, including Saturdays in winter.

At a bare minimum they should contribute to the cost for every day they spend racing elsewhere, and there needs to be a minimum number of mounts to qualify.

Figless said...

If this passes I predict a rash of names you never heard of, exercise riders, receiving mounts from their trainers looking to migrate them to the Jockey policy.