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Friday, October 31, 2014

Breeders' Cup Saturday

Nice little field of ten in the Breeders' Cup Fillies & Mare Sprint, and as far as I'm concerned, we can take this and the Dirt Mile and throw the rest of the races that have been added to the BC over the last few years away.

Leigh Court (4-1) has returned to the races at age four with a bang, after a layoff of 316 days; winning at this distance on the Poly at Woodbine, and then scoring in the six furlong Grade 2 TCA at Keeneland; earning sparkling TimeformUS speed figures in both cases.  (And a career best 6 on the Sheets, part of a nice looking pattern of slow and steady improvement.)  Daughter of Grand Slam has settled on sprinting as a career choice after actually enjoying some success going longer, on turf and synth, last year.  Truth be told, she benefited from a perfect trip and a smooth journey behind a fast pace in the Keeneland race (which included even money favorite Stonetastic, 8-1 ML here).  But she was very impressive visually, seeming well within herself.  Two very sharp works at Woodbine since then, and she seems ready to roll for trainer Josie Carroll, who has a TFUS Trainer Rating of 93 (out of 100) with horses going third off the layoff....

......Though, to be honest, would like, and expect, to see odds higher than the morning line at post time on Leigh Court considering the presence of accomplished sprinters like Artemis Agrotera (3-1) and Judy the Beauty (5-2) in the field.  Don't have anything negative to say about either of those, except that they are unlikely to present any value. They're both fast, versatile, and accomplished at this distance.

Throw out the three two-turn efforts by Sweet Reason (9-2), and this 3YO daughter of Street Sense has a record of 6-5-1-0.  She's three-for-three in one turn races this year, most recently her win at this seven furlong distance in the Test at Saratoga, in which she stumbled pretty significantly at the start. As consistent as she is though, she hasn't really progressed speed figure-wise from her two-year old season, and I don't know that the level that she's attained is fast enough in this very contentious spot; her first try against older horses.  (She paired up a career best 7 on the Sheets in her last two....that's good, yes?)   She'll also need some pace in a race that Pace Projector has favoring horses - particularly the aforementioned and very speedy Stonetastic - up front (though it's hard for me to imagine that there's not going to be a fair pace in a $1 million sprint race).  Love this filly, and can't count her out, but I think she'd be an underlay at her morning line.

Thank You Marylou (20-1) ran an improved figure when adding blinkers at Churchill two tries back. Never got going from the rail in a big field at Keeneland in her last, but could liven up exotics if she can run back to the Churchill effort.  Little Alexis (15-1) is making just her fifth career start, and cuts back to a sprint after running evenly behind Untapable and Sweet Reason in the Cotillion.  Like Sweet Reason, had some trouble at the start of the Test, and only finished a length behind that one. With expected improvement...

 - As far as the Classic, doesn't seem to be any point trying to top the hilarious "scientific" horse-by-horse analysis by Pullthepocket.

But, in any event, let's give the race a shot: I'm gonna let my East Coast bias guide me here.  Shared Belief (9-5) is undefeated and survived the horse racing equivalent of negative campaign advertising - and the depths to which candidates of both parties will stoop just continue to astound - when he survived being floated out to a five-wide-both-turns trip, and won the Awesome Again in an awesome performance (and an awesome call by Trevor Denman, who will be sorely missed again this weekend).  He earned a solid TimeformUS speed figure of 114 (which doesn't take the ground loss into account), and a Sheets number of 3 (which does).  He certainly looks formidable here and would be no surprise.  But he's never raced outside of California, which brings me back to my natural skepticism of west coast runners which has become innate over decades of Lasix (when it was permitted there but not in NY), rock-hard speed tracks, and synthetic tracks (not an issue of quality per se, but of surface preferences); and even if none of those factors are in play these days....I just can't help it!  Besides, he'll be a short price, and has to bounce back from what was truly a grueling effort.

I don't need an east coast bias to discard California Chrome (4-1) here.  I think he's toast (sorry to use that metaphor in two consecutive posts).  Any horse whose connections are euphoric over drawing the 13 post obviously has some serious tractability issues.  And his owner is a schmuck.

Bayern (6-1) scored wire-to-wire wins in the Haskell and the Pennsylvania Derby on tracks that TFUS has rated as favoring speed (race rating shaded in light would have meant a particularly hideous speed bias like the one on BC Friday last year).  Not only that, he got away with a slow pace (pace figures shaded in blue) at Parx.  He'll have Moreno in his face on Saturday and needs to last another furlong.  I think he's likely to finish closer to last than to first.

Tonalist (5-1) and Zivo (15-1) ran 1-2 in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, both coming from the back of the pack.  Each had their progress interrupted when Wicked Strong threw his rider.  I think that Zivo took the worst of it in that regard, though he saved 10 feet relative to the winner according to Trakus.  They are both as consistent as can be, and both come into this race with nice patterns of improvement.  Tonalist, in fact, has improved his TFUS figure in every race in his career (save for one instance in which he duplicated the prior one).  Zivo's improvement has been a more general one during this, his 5yo racing season....and he comes in with a nice recent pattern on the Sheets.  (Here you get a little preview of the Ragozin PPs product that TFUS will be releasing within the next few weeks.)

(Note that he was compromised in his Woodward effort two races back, his only out-of-the-money performance this year, by a track that was rated as strongly favoring speed by TFUS.)  Both would seem to need to step forward one more time in order to get the top spot here, but each seems eligible to do exactly that.

There are questions about both: Tonalist seems to particularly love Belmont, while Zivo's trainer Chad Brown hasn't enjoyed much success west of the Mississippi; 1-for-27 on the SoCal circuit over the last five years.  Find them hard to separate on form, but easy on price.  One could do much worse than 15-1 on a horse who has won seven of his last ten while moving forward for a master trainer for whom the 35-day layoff between races is right in his wheel house.  I'll take a shot with him on value, but Tonalist needs to be on the tickets as well, for sure.

Toast of New York (12-1) is racing on dirt for the first time, and he's....well, you know.  Hope we get a lot of Euro money in the pools here.

V.E. Day (20-1) is an interesting longshot here in my view.  The Travers winner is making only his 8th start and surely would seem to have more to give.  Willing to give him a pass for his dull Jockey Club Gold Cup effort after he took a solid bump at the start, and given the weird configuration of the mile and a quarter distance which starts on the turn.  Think he'll prefer the standard two-turns and could make some noise in the final furlong.  Cigar Street (12-1) has some nice numbers (in fact, the best last-out TFUS figure - 115 - in the field), and excellent tactical speed.  I think he's had it pretty easy though in his two races back from a 510 day layoff, and I'd use him only deep on my exotic tickets here.  Candy Boy (20-1) is in recent sharp form, and comes off a competitive career high TFUS figure of 110.

So, it's a win bet on Zivo, and I'll play him in exotics with Shared Belief, Tonalist, V.E. Day, and throw in some Cigar Street and Candy Boy.

 - In the Grade 3 Discovery at the Big A, Bay of Plenty (8-5) would seem to have this field at his mercy.  He's the lone speed in a race favoring such runners according to Pace Projector.  He returned from a 154 day layoff to win his last, at Belmont, in easy fashion, earning a career best TFUS figure of 103 in his third wire-to-wire win in a row.  So maybe it's nitpicking when I point out that he was allowed to set a very moderate pace in that last race...and that he benefited from tracks that TFUS has rated as speed favoring in his prior two.

But let's instead go with the fastest horse in the race; which is, according to the TFUS numbers, Noble Moon (5-1).  He has two 4ths to show from his last two, which came off a layoff of 140 days; but earned field-high TFUS figures in efforts in which he really had no shot in races in which he was quite ambitiously placed.  There was the G1Kings Bishop at Saratoga, in which he actually acquitted himself well rallying for 4th, earning a figure of 104.....and the PA Derby behind Bayern on the speed-favoring track; an even effort in which he was given a figure of 108.  In his prior two turn efforts - in the Jerome and Wood earlier this year - he actually showed some pretty decent early speed (in fact, he wired the Jerome).  So hoping he can find nice position breaking from the rail in a short field, and run the favorite down late.  Three Alarm Fire (2-1) handled his first assignment against winners with aplomb, but tries two turns for the first time.  We'll try leaving him out.  Best of luck and have a great Breeders' Cup!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Breeders' Cup Friday

In the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, I'd love to try and beat Goldencents (6-5), but getting the same feeling as I do when I'm trying to figure out how the Democrats are gonna keep the Senate.  He won this race last year using the same three stepping stone races to get here; so he looks like a tough incumbent to unseat.  4yo son of Into Mischief is simply faster than these based on his TimeformUS figs, and he's two-for-two at a mile on this track.  He benefited from that nutty speed bias on BC Friday last year; don't know if that will be the case this year, but I imagine that tactical speed surely won't hurt. 

But there are a couple of horses listed at 6-1 ML who I think will run well:  Pants On Fire (6-1) has been sharp during his 6YO season, if not quite as fast on TFUS figures as in the past.  Could be ready to move forward though off a dominant win in a Charles Town stake in which he was wrapped up through the final sixteenth.  That was his 4th race in a compressed period of 55 days, and came after a tough loss at Belmont in which he stalked an insanely fast pace and held on grimly for second to Golden Ticket (15-1 here); that on a track that TimeformUS has rated as favoring closers.  Interesting to note that his CT win, slow-ish on TFUS, came back as a 1 on the Sheets; that's the best last-out Ragozin number, including the favorite.  It was a big jump that I suppose invites thoughts of a bounce.  But he won easily, as mentioned, and has a 41 day break and a bullet half work in between.

Throw out the Derby, and Tapiture (6-1) has quite a pattern of improvement going on.

Still needs further progress to compete with the favorite; but this 3YO son of Tapit is making just his 12th career start, so he's eligible for continued improvement.  Since the Derby, Tapiture has an easy win at Churchill, a gritty victory in the W. Virginia Derby in which he zigged mid-stretch to find room, and a no-shot second to Bayern in the PA Derby.  Tough task facing older for the first time, and from an outside post, but expecting a good effort here.

Fed Biz (7-2) comes off his ground-saving (but nonetheless game) second to Shared Belief, earning a 115 TFUS figure that surely puts him in play.  I'd like to ignore him and throw him out in favor of the abovementioned pair.  Turns out that, in Sheets-land, he's not all that fast on dirt.  When one set of numbers doesn't support what one wants to see, turn to another set that will.  That's what I always say.

 - The Breeders' Cup Distaff sets up like a harness handicap race with the two best horses, Untapable (5-2) and Close Hatches (3-1), assigned to the outside posts.  I think they're both toast.  Untapable has been good but hardly great since her Kentucky Oaks win.  The bubble burst when she tried the boys in the Haskell; and her Cotillion win was not all that convincing, coming with the benefit of a perfect trip as it did.  Her TFUS figures have declined with each effort since the Oaks, and I'm just not feeling a big turnaround here.  Close Hatches wired the muddy Personal Ensign, earning giant pace figures along the way, and then was dueled into submission in the Spinster at Keeneland by the 1st-time blinkered Ria Antonia (15-1).  The change of tactics served the latter well, as she held for second.  Don't see why we'd see anything different here, and with $2 million on the line, we might see some speed surprises from the inside too; particularly from Iotapa (6-1), who'd shown improved early speed before a sluggish break last time out (and who won the G1 Vanity here three back, earning a 120 TFUS figure which tops this field).

So, why can't Don't Tell Sophia (5-1) get a pace setup similar to the one she took advantage of to come on and win the Spinster?  This hard-hitting 6yo daughter of Congaree always fires, and has won four of her last five.  She's been particularly sharp in her last two, which came off a 175 day break, overcoming a slow pace to win at Churchill, and then her Spinster win, which represented a breakthrough in Grade 1 company.  Now she goes third off the layoff for trainer Philip Sims, who has a TFUS trainer rating of 92 (out of 100) in that category, and a perfect 100 in 3YO+ stakes races.  Hoping to see her go off north of her morning line, and can see using her in exactas with Untapable to save.

 - In the 6th at Aqueduct, Lady Luciano (9-2) makes her second start off the claim for trainer John Toscano, who is happy to be back at the Big A; he celebrated by scoring with a longshot winner (with this horse's rider Ruben Silvera) on opening day to break a long losing schneid from Belmont.  He claimed this 3YO daughter of Frost Giant for 40K two races back, and protected her in Starter Allowance company last time out.  That was a fine second in which she stalked a lively pace, responded dutifully when prompted mid-stretch, but failed to hold off Costenia, a Toddster 4-5 favorite who next ran a good second in a Keeneland allowance.  She earned a TFUS figure of 83, the best last-out number in the field.  Lady Luciano seemed to get a little distracted on the turn and in upper stretch; she kept turning her head to the inside.  Been 49 days off and two half-mile breezes since then; hopefully she'll be more professional in this spot.  Pace Projector shows her (#4) in prime stalking position (after a half mile) behind a horse stretching out beyond 6 1/2 furlongs for the first time.   

Queen Corey (3-1) was claimed out of her winning debut by Linda Rice (also with a winner on opening day).  Steps up to face winners from maiden claiming company.....but the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place winners from that race all came back to win, and she really doesn't have all that far to improve in the speed figure department to be prominent here.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

NYRA Looks Ahead, and NOT Back

NYRA is either REALLY excited about Aqueduct opening.  Or, they REALLY don't want you to think about the Belmont fall meet just concluded.  Twice in the last two days, I've received press releases in my inbox about the opening of the Big A, and the $14 million in recent capital investment by the New York Racing Association designed to further enhance the guest experience and improve the quality of racing.  (That expenditure comes out of the 4% of VLT revenues that are specifically earmarked for maintaining and upgrading the tracks....some $21.5 million for the first eight months of 2014; $31.5 million in 2013.)  Tuesday's email was a MEDIA ADVISORY, a notation that is normally reserved for announcing board meetings or significant news developments.

As for Belmont?  No sign of the usual end-of-meet release that details attendance and handle figures, along with the comparisons to the prior relevant meeting.  Now, perhaps I'm wrong, as these press releases are not something that I go out of my way to save.....and the search engine for press releases on the NYRA site is lacking, at best.  But I recall that such announcements always and immediately follow the end of a race meet, whether the news is good or bad.  Here's a negative report from the fall meeting of 2009.  And here's a really bad one from the 2010 Saratoga meeting that was spun to highlight the good parts.

But NYRA apparently, at least as of this writing, is not even trying to spin this Belmont meet.  They've just ignored it, thus far.  It's Breeders' Cup week, so Grening is otherwise occupied, and not around to ask them what's up.  And even if I'm wrong, and past NYRA regimes have ignored unfavorable results, I thought this is supposed to be the new "transparent" NYRA?  Seems to me that they're about as transparent as the Rock of Gibraltar.

Well, at least in today's press release, as opposed to the one on Monday, the Longshots simulcast facility at Aqueduct is discussed.  Don't know if that was just an oversight.  In any event, what we're not told is that NYRA raised the admission price by $5 since the last time we were at the Big A, to $10/$5 for non-NYRA Rewards members/members.

And perhaps you were considering spending your Breeders' Cup day at Longshots?  That'll cost you $40 if you're not a NYRA Rewards member.....$20 if you are.  NYRA continues to try and achieve the so-called "profitability without slots" by nickel-and-diming its customers.  Though I guess $40 to get into Longshots goes well beyond that characterization.  I'll be interested to see if maybe they've gone a little too far in this case.  But I won't be there to see for myself.

Having said that, it's good - and rather surprising - to see that NYRA is making an effort to upgrade a track that it probably intends to close at some point in the next few years.  I'd noted some of the improvements that I saw in progress when I was there over the summer.  In addition, according to the release, there are new video boards in the infield, new TVs throughout the plant, and that "airport style" seating to replace "more than 450 bucket seats at Aqueduct, many of which dated back more than 50 years."  I might miss those, some of them have my name on it.  Also, and curiously in my opinion, improvements to the infield, with a new fountain, sod, and shrubs, to "improve the external look of the racetrack."  Hmm.  Must be Chris Kay's inner green self from his Trust for Public Land days!  You can read the complete release with all of the improvements here.

High Hopes for Yonkers Races for French Audience

The Head Chef and I were at Yonkers Raceway on Saturday night, and many, many thanks to the Standardbred Owners Association of New York for graciously hosting us.  Had a great time, a nice meal (yes, the Head Chef approved), and met a lot of really nice folks, including SOA of NY President Joe Faraldo, who, I learned, is actually NOT the Joe Faraldo who I used to see drive at Roosevelt and Yonkers!  That was his cousin.  I never knew that, and apparently, neither does/did a lot of other people.  I'll put that in the "you learn something new every day" category.

I have been to the Yonk a few times since its transformation to the Empire City Casino, but this was easily the biggest racing crowd I've seen there.  It was a "big night," with several stakes for 3YOs, including the prestigious Yonkers Trot and Messenger Stakes.  The card was highlighted by the $250,000 International Trot Preview, a precursor for the return of the International Trot next year.  As you may know, the International was run for many years at Roosevelt (1959-88), and routinely drew crowds of 40-50,000 plus before the OTB era began.  It was moved to Yonkers for a few years when the Big Wheel closed, but hasn't been conducted since 1995.

But the Trot Preview had a more immediate purpose, as a lead-in for a series of six Sunday morning/afternoon cards (1st post 11AM) to be run at Yonkers, starting on Nov 9, with the express purpose of having five races simulcast to France, where bettors will wager on the races through PMU, the French wagering authority.  The series is a result of an initiative by SOA of NY to drive handle....and not their first foray overseas; they have been successfully exporting signals to Australia and New Zealand, creating some $150-$250K in additional handle per card for the track.  The horsemen and track management do not always see eye-to-eye, but this is a cooperative effort between them, along with the Gaming Commission.  In fact, Yonkers President Tim Rooney Sr. accompanied Faraldo and SOA-NY Executive Director Alex Dadoyan to Paris to sign the agreement

Though the pools will not be commingled, Yonkers will get a percentage of the overseas action.  And that action is expected to be rather substantial.  “They have the second largest pari-mutuel pool in the world behind Japan,” Dadoyan told DRF Harness' Jay Bergman over the summer.  Indeed, Dadoyan, who worked with PMU on Hambletonian simulcasts when he worked at the Meadowlands, was informed by his French counterparts that they are expecting total handle for the five races to be around one million Euros.  That comes to some 250,000 US dollars a race on average with today's exchange rate.  That's a pretty staggering sum, considering that on Saturday night, the horsemen were thrilled to see the total handle on the card exceed $1 million ($1,105,936,  for an average of around $85,000 per race).

So man, they sure do like their harness racing in France!  (And in the countries to which PMU transmits the signal as well, which includes Germany and Austria.)  I'd think that U.S. harness racing is a better fit for European customers than our thoroughbred racing given the different surfaces and culture of the latter sport here.  And it helps that, unlike here, PMU only takes two racecards at a time. 

In order to make the races better appeal to the French audience, the Yonkers races will all be trots, have overflow fields of 12 (four starting from the second tier, though a 6 and 6 arrangement was considered), and be contested at a mile and a quarter; that as opposed to the usual one mile distance which is the standard.  Races at half mile tracks such as Yonkers can tend to be formulaic, but the mile and a quarter distance can make things a lot more interesting, as it did for the Trot Preview on Saturday night.

As Jay Bergman noted in his fine piece on the race, had the race been run at a mile (and conveniently ignoring the fact that the strategies employed by the drivers would have been different), chances are good that the two frontrunners would have duked it out to the end.  The extra distance allowed Natural Herbie to come on and win despite being parked without cover from the half-mile mark, and after being counted out by track announcer John Hernan, who noted at around the 3/4's mark that the 4YO Ohio-bred was "starting to unravel."  It was quite an impressive performance.  Harness Racing Update reports that Natural Herbie, not staked to the Breeders Crown, is done for the year and will rest up for 2015, when he presumably and hopefully will appear in the International Trot.

Runner-up Commander Crowe is an 11 yo Swedish trotter, with 60 wins from 107 career starts and lifetime earnings of some $4.75 million, whose owner shipped him here, I was told, simply to try and avenge past defeats to Sebastian K (who unfortunately broke trying to get to the top in his first try on a half-mile track).  He looked absolutely spectacular on the track in his first U.S. appearance; an amazing equine specimen.

So, with full fields and that extra distance, there certainly should be some interesting Sunday morning racing going on.  If the program proves successful, the next step would be to try and commingle the pools. While Yonkers will benefit from its percentage of the overseas handle, they're not expecting too much from the domestic betting on NFL Sunday mornings (though what else are you doing at 11 AM?).  But if the pools were combined and the French handle numbers live up to expectations, then it would give harness players here a rare chance to bet into pools that are not only far bigger than what they normally encounter, but swelled with money from French punters who are sitting in PMU shops early on a Sunday evening drinking red wine and betting vast sums of money on foreign horses, drivers and trainers whom they know little about.  Ooo la la!  Now that could be worth skipping tailgating for!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Don't Look Here for Breeders' Cup Info

Just in case you haven't noticed, this is not the place for in-depth Breeders' Cup coverage.  Well, for much of any BC coverage to be honest, with the possible exception of a pick or two if I get around to it; I have other things on my mind and on my plate.  There are probably literally hundreds of blogs you can check out instead, as well as the usual excellent news sources -  Bloodhorse, Thoroughbred Daily News and DRF, the latter of which I think actually does have at least a few articles that are not behind their paywall.  As far as TimeformUS goes, we'll have handicapping posts for a few of the races on our blog.  For those of you who are, for some reason, willing to pay to see who other people like (including insight on the foreign runners from an 'expert' from TimeformUK), you can purchase our BC package for $29.99 here, and get analyses for all of the races.  But c'mon, if you're a horseplayer, you should be coming up with your own selections, you know that.

My interest in the event has varied from year to year, but as it has become more elitist, (too) bigger, esconsed at Santa Anita and its Frankentrack dirt surface (who knows what we'll get this year) and, in the years to come, at tracks that greedily jettisoned safety and competitiveness by tearing out their Polytrack in order to host it, I've become less and less interested. Maybe if/when it ever comes back to New York, I'll get more involved.  This game offers fascinating puzzles to solve almost every day; I don't particularly need nor care much for the Breeders' Cup and its Euro imports with scarcity of program information.  Give me full fields of 25K conditional claimers any day.

I was looking back through the NY Times archives at some articles pre-dating the Breeders' Cup, and this just about sums up the thinking when the event was coming to fruition.

The announced purpose of the Breeders Cup is to attract new fans to racing. The idea was that millions in purse money would attract the best horses and automatically create a major news event.
That's from an article dated April 16, 1983 that I'd guess was written by Steve Crist, though there's no writing credit on the page.  But in any event and no matter who wrote it, I'd have to say that the Breeders' Cup has failed rather miserably in that respect.  Here we are, 31 years after the first program was run in 1984, and the industry is still struggling with the same problem.  In fact, by packing all of these races into two days and reducing the rest of the late summer/fall season to a series of preps, one might argue that it's made the sport even more remote to potential new fans.  (Maybe that's a New York-centric complaint since most, if not all, of those championships were once determined here at Belmont Park over the six weeks or so that made up the autumn meeting.)

And while there seems to be a lot of excitement on Twitter, it's hardly a major news event.  As I've been saying for years, it's far, far too much information in too short of a time for the press to digest....and that was true before they added distinctively non-championship races to the championship program.  In fact, it's no longer even a major TV event - if it ever really was - relegated to a cable sports network as it is, except for a one-hour prime time telecast on NBC at a time on Saturday night when only the already-committed will be paying attention.  (I'll be either at a Rangers game or a Meat Puppets show.)
''Racing needs an event like the World Series, Super Bowl and N.C.A.A. championships. I think the Breeders Cup could be the biggest of them all.'' - John Gaines [NY Times, 7/25/1982]
 Didn't quite work out that way.  Did it?

Speaking of New York, NYRA doesn't need to look any further than the Breeders' Cup to see why their "big day" strategy is not going to work to create new fans.  In fact, I've been wondering if they've already abandoned the idea, considering the total lack of promotion for the Super Saturday program at Belmont and, if it's really considered to be a "big day," the NY-bred showcase day last weekend.  ("Come to Belmont to see inferior horses run all day!")  We really heard very little from NYRA about either of those days either before or after.  And the fact that NYRA did not release attendance figures for Belmont (unless asked) indicates to me that they no longer plan on focusing on the crowd numbers, which were originally supposed to be the whole point of the "big days."  Wonder if they'll announce next year's Belmont crowd without being prompted to do so.  Maybe only if there's a Triple Crown possibility?

As opposed to the press release that came out the day after Saratoga closed trumpeting the so-called "top quality thoroughbred racing," along with the attendance and handle figures, the post-Belmont press release talks only about Aqueduct; as if Belmont never happened.  We're told about the $14 million in capital improvements at the Big A to enhance....yes....that "guest experience;" the ones paid for by the percentage of slots revenue specifically earmarked for such improvements.
Notable upgrades include high-definition infield video boards equipped with Trakus technology, 557 flat screen, HD televisions and new airport-style seating, to go along with a host of improvements designed to increase the quality and safety of racing.
I guess one of the "improvements" to better the quality of the racing is the fact that there are only eight races carded on Thursday and Friday; we'll see if that's a meet-long thing.

Completely missing from the press release is any mention whatsoever of the Longshots bar!  Ha, seriously?  Maybe that's because they don't want to tell you that it costs ten bucks to get in (Fi dolla if you have a NYRA Rewards card)?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Casinos Not Part of Debate

The topic of casinos was not brought up at last night's gubernatorial debate in Buffalo, and why should it have been, really?  It's not an open question at this stage, and it doesn't matter at this point what three of the four candidates on stage think about whether casinos should go to Orange County or the Catskills or both or neither.  (Even in the unlikely event that one of them wins, the Gaming Commission could easily push through the licenses before the new year if it wanted to.)  And the other candidate would have told us that he's not involved in the process, as non-credible as that claim may be.  So, it was better concentrating on more pressing topics that weren't really addressed in a meaningful manner anyway.

That's because the format of the debate was determined by the Cuomo Administration, and it was obviously structured in a way which perfectly suits an incumbent with a 20+ point lead and a vexing problem with a certain US Attorney:  The inclusion of two minor-party candidates to take up time that could have been better spent pressing the incumbent on the federal investigations into his conduct regarding the Moreland Commission; strict 30-second and one-minute time limits on answers (they even cut off the microphones when any candidate tried to exceed); and no direct interaction permitted between and amongst the candidates.  Not to mention that the thing only lasted one hour, and it's the only scheduled debate.  Thus, Rob Astorino's attacks on the governor could only take up 1/4 of the time, and Cuomo did not have to ever respond to the GOP candidate's direct challenges to Cuomo for him to assure us that neither he nor members of his staff have been subpoenaed in Preet Bharara's investigation.  (Though one might think that if that wasn't the case, Cuomo would have found an opportunity to tell us so.) 

I thought that the whole thing was a complete waste of time.  Which, of course, was exactly what the governor's people intended.  Nice work there.  The questioners didn't help either by asking a dumb question such as whether the candidate intended to serve out four full years.  While that may have been appropriate to ask the governor in the spin room, it was obvious that it set up the candidates to stray way off topic with the extra time after the one word response of 'yes.'  (Though the governor took some time to try and deflect the query altogether.) 

We here at Left at the Gate are not fans of the governor, as you know.  But that doesn't mean we'd even consider a vote for Rob Astorino.  Seems to me that an accomplished, moderate Republican could fare pretty well in a race for governor here; but instead, the GOP has been able to come up with no better challengers to Cuomo than Carl Paladino and this guy, both of whom have conservative views on topics such as abortion rights, guns, immigration, same-sex marriage, and taxes on the wealthy that are out of step with me and the majority of voters in the state....and positions easily portrayed as being extreme (because, in many cases, they are).  That's beside the fact that Cuomo has moved far enough to the center, and facilitated Republican control of the Senate, in a way that effectively preempts a GOP challenge from that point of view, even if they had someone who was actually a competent candidate. 

It was clear that Astorino was determined to go on a harsh attack from the get-go, and I personally believe that he came off looking bad in doing so.  His attacks came off as being, amongst other things, highly disrespectful.  Yes, disrespectful....I don't care what one thinks of a sitting governor; to say things like "You are looking at a person who may very well be indicted after Election Day comes and goes" while sitting right beside him or her comes off as shrill and pathetically desperate.  (And, in my opinion, probably false.  In my opinion....and not necessarily because I don't think he should be.)  Cuomo, though a bit more forceful than some expected (and whatever you may think about the substance of his responses) easily swatted Astorino away with just an appropriate amount of disdain, never reaching the point of anger that could have raised questions about his temperament. 

(I thought it was curious that, in responding to the questions about the Moreland Commission, Cuomo would twice cite the supporting statement by the commission co-chairperson William Fitzpatrick.  It was precisely that statement, and its coordination with other letters of support, that drew a harsh rebuke from Preet Bharara, and which may very well be its own line of investigation by the feds.)

Astorino made some fair points to be sure, particularly regarding the overwhelmingly negative tone of Cuomo's ads; and his barb that Cuomo is the only one on the stage that has needed to engage a team of defense lawyers.  However, at this point, rather than call for more debates as he is doing, I think Astorino should take what remains of his dignity and go back to Westchester so he can continue forfeiting federal grant money for his county over his stubborn refusal to conform to a 2009 settlement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development with respect to discriminatory zoning laws.

 - Full House Resorts, the lead developer for the proposed casino at Howe Caverns, is up for sale, and the uncertainty about its future can't possibly be good for its chances.  That's too bad for the folks in Schoharie, who seem to be genuinely in favor of a casino there.  Despite its more remote location as compared to the bidders around Albany/Schenectady, I thought the bid was a decent dark horse candidate given the community support, the hardships in the area caused by Hurricane Irene, and Howe Caverns' already being a tourist destination in the area.

 Meanwhile, in Schenectady, the proposed Mohawk Harbor casino has completed its SEQRA process.

 - One more point about the debate: on two occasions, in each his opening and closing remarks, Cuomo spoke glowingly about how we have "Democrats and Republicans working together."  Hardly sounds like a man who is committed to flipping the Senate to Democratic control so that he can actually pass the Women's Equality Act which he claims to be so important to him.  If it really were, he would have been spending less time promoting a fake new party, and more time campaigning for Democratic Senate candidates who could actually make it so.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nuthin Doin on Casino Selections

There was a hastily-announced meeting of the Gaming Facility Location Board on Monday evening.  But they wanted to make it perfectly clear that nobody should be expecting nuthin'.

Just so that nobody got excited or anything. I presume that no one from the press showed up, and that, therefore, no one asked anything about #3 on the Meeting Agenda: a Motion to Enter into a closed Executive Session to consider the "Financial History of Particular Persons or Corporations, specifically Applicants Responsive to the Request For Applications to Develop and Operate a Gaming Facility in New York State."  I'd be curious to know exactly which of the applicants who were responsive to the Request for Applications to develop and operate a gaming facility in New York State were having their financial history considered.  Perhaps this one?

In any event, as I've been saying all along, I'm not expecting any announcement prior to Election Day, lest the decisions piss off any voters who may be considering voting for the incumbent governor.  So it's pretty quiet right about now.  There's been recent news that the Traditions Casino developers have reached an agreement with the Hotel & Motel Trades Council that allows it to move forward with its bid.  We read that Genting's Resorts World racino at the Big A has 'quietly become the most successful racetrack casino in the world....' though I don't know how significant that is given that I don't know that there are any racetrack casinos outside of this country.  And something about Donald Trump, as if anyone cares what he has to say (though more on that below).

One comment though on Genting....again, they're insisting that a casino in Tuxedo will not cannibalize business at its Resorts World racino at the Big A, because RW is a racino with electronic games only, and Sterling Forest would be a full-service casino with hotels and beautiful gardens and skiing and stuff.  Of course, that's easy for them to say, because they have Yonkers smack in between the two to absorb any blow.  And eventually, the whole region will be so loaded with casinos that each will likely have its own little local market from which it draws the majority of its customers.  And Genting can talk all it wants about Asian customers flying in from Beijing, and how that will create all this massive revenue without draining domestic customers from other facilities.  But then what will happen when it opens its own grand Asian-friendly casino in Las Vegas, complete with live panda bears?  You mean, they're not going to want to fly those same baccarat enthusiasts there too?  The global village gets smaller and smaller, and the predicted saturation is going to occur.  One way or another.

Otherwise, while we're waiting, what do you want to talk about?   Seems a good opportunity for me to pivot to the Breeders' Cup.  But I don't really want to; don't find it particularly compelling.  However,  I hope to get around to handicapping a couple of the races well as my annual diatribe about how the BC hasn't achieved its goals; and, in fact, has been negative for the sport overall.

So, of course, there's the elections.  Let's talk a bit about how Governor Cuomo has bamboozled everyone in a way that has cornered me into thinking that I actually have to vote for him!  Yikes!  I'm dead set against doing so for a variety of reasons that I probably don't need to go into here.  However, consider the matter of the Women's Equality Party (WEP) that he created; that as opposed to the Working Families Party (WFP), who granted him their ballot line over Zephyr Teachout in exchange for what was supposed to be the governor's enthusiastic embrace and energetic support for Democratic control of the NY Senate.  (That support has been half-hearted, at best.  He announced support for Adirenne Esposito, running for a vacant seat on Long Island, in a manner which the Times described as "[leaving] something to be desired."  Then, he endorsed three Democrats running upstate - incumbents Celia Tkaczyk and Terry Gibson, and Justin Wagner, running for a seat being vacated by a Republican - via press release rather than in person....and on a Saturday - from Puerton Rico no less! - when it tends to get lost.  Yeah, that'll really do it!  Thanks, Gov.)

Anyway, and briefly,  the governor established the Women's Equality Party amidst much cynicism as to his motives, given that the notion of the party's name is already a cornerstone of the Democrats' agenda.  In fact, it's quite possible that the Women's Equality Act would already have passed in its entirety (including the controversial - to Republicans - notion that Roe v Wade, currently the law of the land, should also be the law of the state; just in case the Roberts Supreme Court someday overturns it) had Cuomo not encouraged and empowered the current arrangement in the Senate whereby the minority GOP shares power with the IDC.  (Additionally, his broken promise to veto partisan redistricting is no doubt contributing to what appears to be an extremely strong threat of the GOP taking the Senate outright in two weeks.)  Or, perhaps, had he put as much energy into seeing it passed as he did with the casino amendment.

By encouraging voters to vote for him on the WEP ballot line - as I was specifically encouraged to do by a recent campaign call - Cuomo is not only, as Senator Liz Krueger recently noted, causing a bloc which makes up 54% of the state's voters to be "relegated to some non-party," but he threatens the very viability of the WFP.  (And if you're confused between the WEP and the WFP, many people feel that's exactly the goal.)  If Cuomo does not receive at least 50,000 on the Working Families Party line, the party will lose its position on Row D of the ballot and possibly threaten its presence there altogether.  Since the Working Families Party has become, in my view, an important progressive voice as the governor has shifted to the political center in order to further his own political ambitions,  I would not want to see that happen.  Thus, I must seriously consider holding my nose, and voting for the governor on the Working Families Party line.  Yuck. 

 - Senator Krueger is also leading the party's opposition to Proposition 1, the farcical redistricting procedure that resulted from the deal between Cuomo and the Senate GOP that nixed the former's promised veto of the most recent redraw.  The process that would result should the proposition pass is a not-at-all thinly veiled attempt to land the process right back into the hands of the parties in control of the chambers at the well as formally establish the existing amorphous districts as the baseline for future changes (which is not currently the case).

 - An article by Michael Vass on the Binghampton Examiner site contains some succinctly smart observations on casinos that I'll post here without any further comment necessary: 
Unlike almost any other industry, casinos are essentially a zero sum industry. In essence casinos take more out of communities than they put in - if they are successful. Casinos do not create a good that can be sold, and the number of jobs created is fixed once a casino is up and running. The goal of all casinos is the Las Vegas model. That is that the glamour and entertainment is attractive enough to pull tourists from other locations, thus increasing the pool of money that can be taken without destroying the local economy the casino is based in.

For more than 2 decades Atlantic City did exactly what Las Vegas has done. They pulled visitors on the East Coast via boxing matches and ease in travel (compared to Las Vegas). There is the benefit of a decent climate (for the northeast) and a beach in addition to entertainment venues. This was an ideal situation, until competition arrived.

No, New York will never be saved by casinos......Given the relatively harsh winters (that numerous New Yorkers escape south to avoid every year), the lack of diversity in Upstate New York, the limited pool of discretionary dollars available, and high competition, casinos cannot be the savior to New York's State deficit. For these same reasons local communities, that may gain a short-term bump due to curiosity and ease of travel, will not have meaningful long-term improvements.

In fact, it is a very real probability that at least some of the local communities in Upstate New York will be harmed by the casinos. The limited pool of discretionary funds available in these areas may funnel into the casinos. Funds that will never reach back to the communities they came from, because that is the purpose of a gambling casino - if they are run to create a profit. [Examiner]
UPDATE:  Our buddy El Angelo points out that SD-40, where Justin Wagner is running against
Republican Terrence Wagner for the seat being vacated by Greg Ball (R), lies in large part in Westchester, and therefore does not qualify as being "upstate."  Here is what this district looks like:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Plain and Simple

Capital New York has more on baccarat, the casino card game that Genting is planning to fly Asian high rollers from around the world to play at their Sterling Forest casino in Tuxedo.  They told the Location Board at their oral presentation that they plan to derive 45% of their revenue from international customers by the time the Meadowlands would get a casino off the ground.  So, they don't really care about all of the local competition that is saturating the region.  They have a global market.  They are trying to tell us that they're not really competing against the local market....and that not only will they not be adversely affected by the competition, but that they won't cannibalize them too much either.  Not everyone is buying that.

Alan Woinski, an independent gambling consultant, thinks Genting's new argument has some merit, but doubts it will address competitors' concerns.

“Yeah, they’ll fly some of their high rollers in from Asia and from their other markets,” he said.

But, he said, “They’re trying to make the case that they aren’t going to completely cannibalize anything else in the area. They’re lying.” [Capital New York]
Still, Woinski opines: “If I had to tell you what would be the most successful casino in New York it would definitely be the one that caters to Asians."  That's because, according to the article, nearly a quarter of the $6.5 billion generated by Las Vegas casinos last year came from baccarat tables.

So, what is this game that is so appealing (at least to Asian players)?  I did a little research, and it's a very plain and simple game with very little in the way of decision making.  In fact, the 'mini-baccarat' games in particular seem more like betting on a coin toss.  Here's a very basic video tutorial if you are interested.  The narrator explains that it's a "social game and a fun game," due in part to the player's ability to take his/her time and draw out the suspense in revealing the cards.  Here's a video that I found on You Tube of a baccarat game taken by a hidden camera.  Check out just how much fun everyone is having!

As to its appeal, an article from the Las Vegas Sun which is linked to from the Capital NY article explains:
It offers no opportunity to use logic or creative thinking, as poker does. It offers none of the intellectual stimulation of noncasino card games like bridge or hearts. It offers no chance to win a veritable fortune on a single modest bet, as you might with horse racing’s Pick Six.
“The Asians love the characteristics of the game,” says Bill Zender, a former gaming executive who served as vice president, director of casino operations and part-owner of the Aladdin hotel-casino. “To them it’s a pure gambling game. Once the cards have been shuffled, cut and placed into the shoe, the cards speak for themselves.”
Non-Asian tourists would rather play a game that gives them an opportunity to make decisions on their hand.
Oh.  You mean, like slot machines?

The more I learn about all this casino stuff, the less sense it all makes.  I really don't want to wade into territory of stereotyping ethnic groups (though there doesn't seem to be any issue whatsoever with Genting and other casino operators doing so).....but horse racing at least used to be considered to be a game that Asians enjoyed too.  I recall, back in the day, how we always would note and comment on how many discarded Racing Forms and track tickets one would see on the ground around Chinatown.  That game involves a lot of decision making, as you probably know.  Maybe they, and all the non-Asians sitting at slot machines as well, have simply gotten tired of having to think so damn much!  I mean, who the hell needs that!?

Apparently, the game got a boost in the 60's thanks to appearances in James Bond movies; particularly this one, from Dr. No (which actually features a variation of the game called Chemin de which appears to involve at least a little thought).

James Featherstonhaugh, playing the villainous Dr. Yes in the film From Saratoga With Love, in which he torments the good folks of East Greenbush, said of Genting's plan:
“I don’t want to flunk geography here, but I think once you get on an airplane, it’s certainly at least is easy to go to Las Vegas as it is to a standalone casino in Tuxedo, N.Y."
Perhaps if Jimmy Feathers was paying attention to Genting's presentation, he wouldn't flunk geography as he has failed the test of common decency.  There, Genting noted that it takes two more hours to fly from Beijing to Las Vegas as it does to NYC.  From there, they could hop on Genting private jets (red no doubt, just like their buses), fly up to Stewart Airport, and be seated at the baccarat table in no time.  Besides the fact that NYC offers tourist attractions that Vegas does not.  (Though the brothels are illegal here.)

Meanwhile, the zoning board in East Greenbush went ahead and approved rezoning laws which would clear the way for a casino on Thompson Hill; that despite another demonstrative display of opposition by the town's residents. 
Acting Chairman Tom Calamaras voted in favor of it. “We did what we were asked to do by the town,” he said. “Plain and simple.”
The people in East Greenbush don't want a casino.  Plain and simple.  Just like baccarat.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wise Dan Videos Were Not That Wise

Well, now that Wise Dan is out of the Breeders' Cup, he really isn't that interesting!  Trainer Charles LoPresti said that the horse is a 'one' on a "lameness scale of one to five."  That's surely a number at which a lot of horses run all the time; even top level horses in stakes races.  But you can't blame the connections for not running him here. 

"He's mad; he wants to go to the track."
Well, that's interesting!

But so much for the Most Interesting Horse in the World videos.  Despite my reservations about the wisdom of that ad campaign, it's a rough break for the people at America's Best Racing who commissioned them, and you gotta feel bad for them.  However, it's another really good reason to not market this sport on the back of any particular horse, no matter how interesting - or brilliantly fast - it may or may not be.  It's a betting game, how many times do we have to say that?   I imagine that we won't see the remaining four installments of the series.  And I don't think anyone will be crying in their beer about that.

 - Also missing from the Breeders' Cup will be Mike Battaglia, unceremoniously dumped after 21 years working racing telecasts for NBC.  Battaglia, who, according to DRF, has been making the morning lines at Churchill, Keeneland, and Turfway for 40 years, was a humbly knowledgeable presence on the telecasts.  I wouldn't say he was indispensable.  But he had a pleasant and unpretentious demeanor which no doubt made the occasional and non-race fans in the audience feel comfortable.

And the main problem I have is that it's not like he's being replaced with Serling or Maggie or Christina Blacker or some other bright racing presence.  But rather, with Eddie Olczyk.  Not that I have any problem with Eddie O......after all, he's on the Cup with the 1994 Rangers, he's a great hockey analyst and a nice guy.  But he's a hockey guy.  So I don't really understand what the thinking is here.  It's not like it's peak time of the NHL season that he would be reaching a lot of people by promoting the event and his appearance during playoff games.  (Mike Emrick already does a good job of setting him up to pick the Triple Crown races and promote those telecasts.)  And while I'm sure he knows racing, it's not logical (nor a knock on him) to believe he knows as much as those who make a living in the sport.

I find that many times, a guy in this spot will go out of his way on a telecast to show everyone that he knows the sport and that he belongs; which leads to a strained and unnatural on-air presence.  Let's hope that Eddie O can avoid that.

Location Board Selections May Not Necessarily Be The Final Word

Interesting piece from over the weekend in the Finger Lakes Times that's worth a read.  It's based on an interview with Mark Gearan and Robert Williams, the Chairman and the Executive Director, respectively, of the Gaming Commission.

I'd never considered the point raised in the lede - that Gearan would either push for a casino in his native Finger Lakes region......or specifically not do so in the interest of avoiding the appearance of favoritism.  Writer Mike Cutillo goes on to note: 

The fact, though, is this: Wherever the state’s four new privately developed casinos will be, Gearan will have had absolutely no say in the matter.

As chair of the commission, Gearan had everything to do with naming the five volunteer members of the Gaming Facility Location Board. However, it’s that board alone — and not the Gaming Commission — which is in the process of determining the fate of the 16 projects vying for those four licenses, including Wilmorite’s Lago Casino & Resort. [Finger Lakes Times]
However,  I don't believe that this is entirely true. Yes, it is the case that, as Williams notes:
“The way the statute was constructed is that these five individuals would make a recommendation [emphasis mine] on location to the Gaming Commission....The commission does not have the ability to substitute out judgment that they think one project is better than the one that was recommended ... they don’t have an ability to determine that project ‘X’ is better than project ‘Y.’”
However, while the Gaming Commission cannot judge the applicants as to which is "better," it can indeed determine that an applicant that was selected by the Location Board is not licensable.  That's its job.  And we don't need to go very far back in history for an example of this.  In 2010, AEG was selected to build the racino at Aqueduct, by Governor Paterson himself (that as opposed to this year, when Governor Cuomo expects us to believe that he's "not playing a role in that") (hee hee).  However, AEG was officially eliminated (amidst all of the obvious corruption involved in the selection) when the Lottery Division declared that the group was not licensable.  Now that the Lottery Division has been folded into the Gaming Commission, it is the latter which needs to make that determination. 

So, unless the Location Board members have been consulting with the Commission as to the worthiness of the applicants from a licensability standpoint and is making their selections with that in mind - and given that we've been repeatedly told that they are considering 70% economic factors, 20% community support [or lack thereof], and 10% workforce enhancement factors, I don't know that that's the case - it will be up to the Gaming Commission to make that determination.  Thus, the time gap between fall, when the Location Board makes its "recommendations" - Williams' word - and early 2015, when the Gaming Commission issues licenses.

So, it's possible that the Location Board could make a selection that the Gaming Commission will not license because, say, the developer owes $72 million in taxes.  Or because the funding entity is part of a company which has supported a ruthless dictator.  Or because the company markets "social" gambling games to kids.  Or for the same suspected connection to an organized crime figure that disqualified one of the developers from consideration in Massachusetts.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe that the standards of licensability are carved in black and white, and are therefore subject to interpretation.  Point being that, even after the Location Board makes its recommendations, there is still an opportunity for a meddling governor to meddle in the process.  The Gaming Commission is his commission, after all.

 - When questioned by the reporter about the opposition in Tyre (the local area served by the newspaper), Williams noted:
“Opposition in Albany to one of the proposals there and in the Catskills to at least two proposals is perhaps even more vociferous than what you find in Tyre, but I don’t want to diminish the opposition in Tyre by suggesting they’re coming in third place. They’re very dedicated as I think Chairman Gearan will evidence ... he’s actually had visitations to his Gaming Commission meetings from individuals from Tyre.”
Williams is, of course, referring to East Greenbush in the Albany area.  I believe he's probably actually referring to the Orange County bids in Tuxedo and perhaps Woodbury rather than to the proposals in the actual Catskills, which don't have any significant opposition as far as I know.  In a humorous column today in the Albany Times-Union, Chris Churchill ranks East Greenbush as "dead in the water."
Pros: There must be a compelling reason why this relatively affluent town should benefit from a gambling expansion designed to help distressed communities. And that reason is ... Um, I'm going to need some help with this one. Anybody? Anybody? Hello?

 - Catching up a bit from the weekend, the Times had a piece on the lawsuit by the Harriman family against the Woodbury casino.  Since I mentioned it in this post, this situation has not gone away.  The problem is a deed restriction from the 1971 sale of the land by the family which prohibits the construction of a hotel on the site.  The developers - Caesars World and David Flaum - offered the family $2 million, but that bribe payment was rejected. They thought they'd found a way around the restriction by leasing an adjoining plot from Norfolk Southern Railroad; the plan was to put the hotel specifically on that land.  At first, the Harrimans claimed that the casino and hotel constituted a single building so that the restriction still applied.  But they subsequently discovered a weapon seemingly far less subject to judicial interpretation.
..After digging through property records, Mr. Sweeney discovered the Norfolk Southern property was also under a Harriman deed restriction.

E. H. Harriman’s wife, Mary, had granted an easement to the Erie Railroad in 1910. But the contract included a clause, Mr. Sweeney said, stating that the land would revert to the Harrimans if the railroad no longer needed the property for railroad purposes.  The Harrimans notified Norfolk Southern that a casino resort was not a railroad purpose, and therefore, wanted their land back. [NYT]
Oops.  Don't you hate when that happens?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Not That Interesting

Wise Dan is actually not the most interesting horse in the world.  He's actually rather dull.  All he does is win.  He has a rather monotonous record of 14 wins in his last 15 races since he switched to turf racing as a full-time occupation.  His only loss in that time was a second-place finish in a race rained onto the Keeneland Polytrack.  (I supposed he'd be scratched if that happened now, with the main track switched to dirt.)   It's usually not that close either.  Only twice in that time was his winning margin small enough to be expressed in body parts rather than in numbers.  Yes, he made it really....well, interesting, when he returned from colic surgery to gut out a nose victory at Saratoga in August.  (In a recent board meeting, NYRA CEO Chris Kay singled out that appearance of the two-time Horse of the Year as one of the highlights of the Spa meet.....though, at the time, NYRA was just so very excited that they carded his race in the early afternoon to keep it out of the Pick Six.)

Perhaps you've seen the series of videos produced by America's Best Racing.  While well-intended, they miss the point, as does virtually any attempt I've seen by whatever passes for a national racing body to promote this sport since 'Go Baby Go.'  (And it's an unfortunate case of an industry that is trying to rid its image of drugs ripping off a beer commercial.)  This is a betting game.  And, though the clips end with the tag line "keep betting, my friend," that point is one that is not effectively conveyed here.

So, what exactly will these videos accomplish other than generating some royalty payments for Dos Equis?  The only people who care about Wise Dan are the people who already care about him.  The chances that these videos are going to inspire anyone who won't already do so (particularly in the East-leaning time zones) to stay home on a Saturday evening and turn on the TV to watch him compete in the BC Mile are highly unlikely.  And even if they did, chances are that they wouldn't be betting on or against him, or on any other race thereafter.

Of course, these clips could perhaps be more effective if they were actually really funny.  The first two had their moments ("one time, he came in 8th, just to see how it feels").  But the 3rd and 4th installments have me shuddering at the notion that there are still four more to come.

So, I took the third video and redid it in an attempt to add some yuks.  I can't say for sure whether I have succeeded. 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Casino News and Notes: Unions For and Against, Missing Houses, and Blandishments

Two top union leaders want to see casinos located in Orange County rather than in the Catskills.  But another one is lobbying against one specific project there.

The heads of the AFL-CIO and the Hotel Trades Council wrote to the Gaming Commission to opine that Orange County casinos "will create the most jobs while generating the most revenue for New York's schools." [NY Daily News] A Sullivan County official responded to point out the obvious - the union doesn't really care about the latter, and is only interested in the most jobs for its members.  And I think it's not really in dispute that a casino 50 miles from NYC will generate the most revenue; the question is whether it would comport with the original intent of the legislation.  So we'll put the union leaders' letter in the blah, blah, blah category.

More interesting is the continued and persistent campaign by Unite Here against Rush Street Gaming. As you may recall, they brought workers to the public comment hearings to complain about their treatment.  And then, they mailed postcards criticizing the company's involvement with social gaming for kids to 15,000 Capital District and Orange County residents.

Now, they have released this radio ad in the Albany market.

“There are casino companies right here in our state who offer good wages and benefits, and they don’t fight workers who want to union,” the worker says in the ad. “I just wish I worked for one of those other companies instead of Rush Street.” [Politics on the Hudson]
(How secure do you think Fred Lapka's job is right about now?)

Of course, the aforementioned Hotel Trades Council has no issue with this alleged mistreatment, nor the kiddie casino games, because they've reached an agreement with the company.  Rush Street responded with their usual statement that notes their "Best Places to Work" awards.  They are bidding for the Hudson Valley Casino in Newburgh (with Saratoga harness) and for the Schenectady proposal (with Galesi Group).

Could be that Saratoga Raceway & Casino's Jimmy Feathers may have a big problem here despite his political connections that we've felt make him a shoo-in for a license.  Besides Rush Street under this concerted attack, his East Greenbush proposal should really be a non-starter at this point, considering the sustained and righteous opposition from the community there.  Seems to me that he withdrew from a Saratoga proposal in the face of less strident opposition than he is facing here, probably with a grand scheme to monopolize casino gambling in the Capital District market with two facilities.  If he had any decency whatsoever, he'd graciously withdraw from East Greenbush too.

Those opponents were out in force again last night at a Town Planning Public Hearing where the environmental study (SEQRA) was discussed.  Amazingly, the developers have only recently started the process.  This is a strategy memo that was prepared for the occasion.  One humorous note I saw on the No East Greenbush Casino Facebook page: The developers came with a table model of the proposed site.  It was noticed that the model conveniently (for the developers) ignored 30% of the homes on the Thompson Hill Road, the road on which this facility is being proposed. 
When my wife questioned Saratoga's new design guy, Mr. Davis, he said she was wrong. Numerous witnesses were present. My wife pointed out that her own mother lives across the street, and that her mother's house didn't make it's way onto the model, nor did two others homes! When pressed, Mr. Davis said the map was still wet and that a lot of the model fell off on the way in.  [lol - ed.]  Again, my wife pointed out that the driveways embossed or painted onto the surface weren't even there, so no houses could have been there either. Julie Miner, of J. Strategies, was heard whispering to him that houses were in fact missing. Within moments another gentleman was asking us to step away so that the table could be covered.

If the map table was off by 30%, what else hasn't been correctly portrayed? I think lots of things. Rush job on the map table, rush job on the timetables for working the SEQRA process, rush job on telling the Supervisor a casino was coming, rush job on getting school Superintendent Nagle allegedly on board, on and on and on. Again, small point, I'm sure Mr. Davis is a fine engineer, and he probably didn't even make the model himself, but the small points sometimes point to bigger problems. Planning Board: Pay attention.
Not really that small of a point, in my opinion.   The inappropriateness of sticking a 24 hour casino on a quiet residential road is one of the key points here; and by falsely minimizing the number of residences that will be affected (fell off, my butt!), the developers are intentionally trying to distort the reality in order to mitigate negative effects that relate to two of the criteria included on the SEQRA form: Consistency with Community Plans, and Consistency with Community Character.

 - A majority of Tyre residents oppose the casino there.

 - More opposition to Genting's Sterling Forest casino based on environmental concerns; in the form of an editorial in the New York Times, and an appeal by the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  I'm not familiar with the history, but it's clear that preserving that 22,000-acre parcel of green space was the subject of extensive efforts by environmentalists and politicians back in the 90s.  The Appalachian Group points out the casino site's proximity to the hiking trail. 
The casino would be visible from two prominent viewpoints on the trail, and would contribute to lower air quality and higher level of sound, and would have other adverse impacts, the group said.
The Times points out the risks to the "pristine" watershed which provides "clean drinking water for millions of people in New York and New Jersey."  Referring to Genting's outrageous offer of a $450 million up front payoff (far in excess of $70 million), the editorial notes:
These blandishments should be resisted and the application denied.
Yeah, I had to look up 'blandishments,' and I'm actually not sure that it's the right word in this instance.  It means: a flattering or pleasing statement or action used to persuade someone gently to do something.  Personally, I wouldn't put a voluntary payment of $380 million in the category of 'gentle persuasion.'  I will endeavor to use the word in what I believe to be a more appropriate manner in the near future.  Have a great day.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Cuomo Will Have His Say on These Frackin' Casinos

Capital New York reports on the latest example of the Cuomo Administration involving itself in something that's supposed to be an independent and objective process (exposed only after the state acceded grudgingly to a FOIL request). This took place in 2011, at a time when the governor was considering the approval of fracking on a limited basis in the Southern Tier.  The plan was abandoned in favor of Cuomo's current strategy of simply stalling on a decision after this June, 2012 article in the New York Times, said by the report to have been a "trial balloon" for the plan, was received poorly.

The original draft of a federal water study by the US Geological Survey (USGS) that was commissioned by the state contained "politically inconvenient conclusions" for the governor's fracking plan, as well as for other energy projects that are under active consideration today

Email communications over a period of several months between Cuomo administration officials and federal researchers were obtained by Capital, in heavily redacted form, through a Freedom of Information Act request. The messages reveal an active role by Cuomo's Department of Environmental Conservation in shaping the text, and determining the timing of the report's release.
In the early study draft, author Paul Heisig noted that gas “drilling, extraction, transport via pipelines, and underground storage” could inadvertently introduce methane into drinking water supplies.

But the version published after the copy was reviewed and edited by staff members from the state D.E.C. and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority omits the reference to pipelines and underground storage. The later, administration-vetted version also includes a line that wasn't in the earlier draft, saying that methane pollution risks in fracking are mitigated by well designed gas wells: “This risk can be reduced if the casing and cementing of wells is properly designed and constructed.”
Though heavily redacted, the emails show a number of New York officials were involved in the study’s drafting, including Eugene Leff, a Department of Environmental Conservation deputy commissioner. Leff is a longtime Cuomo loyalist who worked for the governor back when he was attorney general, and whose installment at the D.E.C. was a priority for Cuomo after his election in 2010. [Capital New York]
I would also point out that D.E.C. Commissioner Joe Martens, appointed by Cuomo, also has a long history with the family, having served for four years in the Mario Cuomo administration.

The article tells of an instance in which a USGS staff member had to remind state officials that they are "a 'science organization' which is not in the business of advocating particular positions."

If this all sounds familiar, it's because it is.  The Gaming Commission is Cuomo's commission, and they appointed the Location Board, which is staffed by five men who all have ties to the governor, as we've pointed out (ad nauseum) in the past.  (And we'd also mention that the crucial SEQRA process that all the bidders need to complete was established and is overseen by the same D.E.C. led by the same Cuomo loyalists, though we've also noted that they have limited input into the local approval processes.)  Once again, the point is that we expect that Governor Cuomo is surely going to express his opinion as to who should get these casino licenses, and that the members of the location board are going to be listening quite closely.

 - We've heard a lot about how new casinos in New York will attract customers from other states and/or New Yorkers who are currently traveling over state lines to gamble.  That doesn't mean however that casinos in those other states will take this lying down.  Recent reports tell us of two Pennsylvania casinos that are reacting to the prospect of increased competition by expanding themselves (that despite the latest statewide declines there)....and it sounds like they are taking pages out of the New York playbook.  Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs is planning to add features aimed at attracting more customers from a wider radius.
“It’s our pack up the minivan approach,” Bean said. “We want to make our complex a family destination by giving more people from farther distances more reasons to come here and stay longer.”

Bean....said future plans include an indoor water park, a summer snow skiing park, an indoor sports complex, a retail shopping center and possibly a second hotel. [Times Leader]

Sounds like we could also be headed for an over-saturation of water parks (no pun intended)!  Remember that Jeff Gural specified Pocono Downs as a casino from which a Tioga Downs facility could attract or retain customers.

Similarly, the successful Sands Casino at Bethlehem is planning to add a second hotel, a Bass Pro Shop, a convention center, and a new Italian restaurant run by a celebrity chef who is not named Mario Batali.  Seems the answer to more competition is to get even bigger, growing at a pace apparently well in excess of the number of new casino gamblers. It doesn't take an economist to see where that is all headed.

 - Officials of Seneca and Oneida Counties are going at it over the prospect of a casino in Tyre.  The latter is the home of the Turning Stone casino and the Vernon Downs racino, and Oneida is worried about the prospect of a casino that would be 75 miles away.  Seneca officials are rather incredulous. 
"My friends in Oneida County have apparently been drinking heavy doses of Turning Stone Kool-Aid,” began a statement released by Seneca County Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert Hayssen. 
“Does County Executive Picente understand what competition is all about,” continued the Seneca County official in his scathing rebuke. “This is America, not Cuba. Competition is good for businesses and for the customers. Even competition where one party (Turning Stone) – his party – gets a 10-county monopoly.” [Rome Sentinel]
Indeed, the deal that Governor Cuomo made with the Oneida Indian Nation last year prohibits a casino from being built in Oneida and nine surrounding counties (Vernon Downs is grandfathered in).  Seneca County is not included.  To give you an idea of just how large that area of exclusivity is, it's the brown colored area in this map (from

So, we are surely not crying for the Oneida tribe here.  Besides the fact that they had operated since 1993 without turning over a penny to the state.

For their part, Oneida County is concerned that customers from the Syracuse area who presently frequent Turning Stone may be lured to Tyre, should Wilmorite get a license for their proposed Lago Casino and Resort there.  However, Syracuse is located 34 miles from Turning Stone, and 48 miles from Tyre; so those customers who are distance-sensitive are not going to change their habits.  And besides, Oneida gets a flat, guaranteed $2.5 million a year from Turning Stone under the agreement; any loss in the county's revenue from a downturn in business would come from its 25% share of the state's 25% share of slots revenue, the latter estimated to be around $50 million a year.  So, if Turning Stone is down, say, 20% (which surely seems on the high side to me), the cost to Oneida would be $2.5 million of the approximately $15 million they are receiving now; or a 17% reduction.

That's a bummer.  But hard to feel too bad for them, considering the protection granted to the casino by the state, and the sudden windfall to the county that resulted from Cuomo's politically-motivated deals with the Oneida and other tribes that were conveniently concluded months before the referendum vote, effectively ensuring that they would not oppose it.  So, shut up Oneida County.  (And besides, it says here that Governor Cuomo will see to it that Jeff Gural will be rewarded for the $700,000 he spent in support of the referendum and get his casino at Tioga at the expense of Lago and Traditions.)

 - Here's a couple of interesting little tidbits I've seen in the last few days.  Back to the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, seems they're having a little problem with the Asian customers they're busing in from NYC to play baccarat.
More than 50 buses a day flow in from the Asian communities of New York, giving Sands the busiest table games in Pennsylvania. But Juliano acknowledged the practice of bus riders' selling their free play cards and spending the next five hours loitering in the casino and surrounding south Bethlehem neighborhoods has been a frequent complaint by other casino patrons. To address that, he instituted a policy prohibiting bus riders from entering the casino with large bags, which some have used to carry in everything from bagged lunches to newspapers to laptop computers. [Pocono Record]
How pitifully sad is the idea of people spending their entire day riding back and forth on a bus and hanging out for five hours in order to sell a $45 free play card?

And finally, there's this (h/t to our friends at Save East Greenbush).  The state of Missouri has a novel idea to try and stem their regular annual declines.  (By the way, they charge patrons $2 per every two hours they spend in casinos there.) (Don't give NYRA any ideas.) 
A law passed over the summer might help casinos in Missouri. The new credit law allows casinos to loan money to gamblers. Gamblers can establish $10,000 in credit.

“This money that they would borrow would have to be paid back within 30 days...It keeps that gambler from having to carry large amount of cash with them if they’re inclined to bet large amounts of money.” [KRCU]
No further comment necessary.  Have a great day.