July 1, 2013

July 1, 2013

This one’s about NYRA……the new NYRA
I’ve got some bad news and I’ve got some good news. The bad news is that there is a new NYRA in town. The good news is that it is going to be very difficult for the new NYRA to get worse than the old one. Allow me to detail my reasoning.
NYRA has a long and glorious history of operating in a dysfunctional mode. Things occurred in the past that no outsider would ever believe could happen to a business. More recently, last year’s opening day at Saratoga — more about this place later — experienced low water pressure (a fire hazard), tote board problems, the malfunctioning of both the TV and sound system (another fire hazard?), etc. Fast forward 9 months to April 26, 2013, opening day at Belmont. Here is what NYRA customers were treated to:
1. Only one pari-mutuel betting window clerk on the 3rd floor.
2. Three operational computer machines for betting – one of which was down most of the day.
3. There were long lines for those of us desiring to purchase a season pass. One person was available to process the requests and one customer took 5 minutes to be served.
4. The entrance to the track was not dirty – it was filthy.
5. The 3rd floor was also filthy. Bird droppings on the seats was the norm. There was a layer of scum on most surfaces. It remained this way until Belmont Week, June 5.
6. Please don’t ask me about the bathrooms.
7. I thought better of purchasing anything from a concession stand.
8. The tote boards on the infield grass are impossible to read. What idiot was responsible for their purchase?
9. One tote board wasn’t functional. It still isn’t working.
10. Several tote boards were damaged; they have yet to correct the glitch.
11. The “suits” were out and parading about in full force Belmont Week.
12. The evening NYRA TV show was not operational for a week; it is still experiencing problems.
13. Odds on winning horses continue to change after the race is over.
And then there is the recent NYRA policy of cancelling racing; they cancel a day of racing if there is racing (due to a holiday) on a dark day (Monday or Tuesday). As long as I can remember, there was always racing on the Sunday after the Belmont Stakes. A couple of years back, NYRA decided to cancel racing on that Sunday, but interestingly, chose not to make it up on a dark day. Add to this the cancellation of racing on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday dates when the scene moves from Belmont to Saratoga and returns to Belmont from Saratoga.
You want more? How about the recent hiring of Christopher Kay as the new President and CEO of NYRA? He is a lawyer with absolutely no background in the racing industry and no experience dealing with the pari-mutual wagerer. Wow! Where do they find these guys? In case you don’t know it, lawyers create problems while my profession (engineering) solve problems. Was he the best qualified individual for the job? His hiring ranks with the earlier hiring of Jason Bluett and Eric Donavan. Again, how in the world were they selected from the pool of applicants? And then, there is the recent tote bag giveaways. NYRA conned its customers into believing it was a normal-sized bag when, in realty, it was miniature/small replica of earlier bag giveaways. What an organization! *?&# Thank you, the new NYRA.
It’s only natural to now ask: Why? Part of the NYRA problem is that the industry, as a whole, never had to compete for the bettors’ dollars in the early days and has been unable to adjust due to the bureaucracy embedded in the industry. Another reason is the industry’s inability to attract the younger set who are accustomed to instant gratification with medicine, drugs, and casino gambling; they are simply not willing to wait 30+ minutes between races that are over in approximately 110 seconds. But the real problem is the approximately 20% takeout. As I said back on February 28, 2000: “compare this 20% to other present day betting/investment options – straight sports bets (5%), dice table (0.5%), blackjack (near 0%), stock market (essentially 0%), etc., and a reasonably intelligent individual will arrive at some very simple conclusions regarding the merits of pari-mutual betting. And then there is the cheating: drugged horses, odds of winners changing after the race, failure to enforce penalties and suspensions, failing to take action on cheaters, etc. Even worse are our elected officials who have routinely exhibited a level of incompetence and indifference. They are like desperados when it comes to taxes and revenues; reducing their cut of a diminishing pie is out of the question for politicians.
Modern day telecommunications, along with the massive increase in betting parlors external to the tracks, has increased the sport’s fan base nearly 20-fold. Despite this, the sport is staggering under the burden of ridiculous and senseless purse structures, laughable administrators with bloated salaries, reduced track attendance, and an inability to draw young bettors to the sport. Gimmicks and slogans have not turned things around. Only a change in the “take-out” will bail this industry out. But, don’t bet on it.

Let’s look at other sports and betting venues. Baseball, NBA, pro-football and boxing attendance is down. Betting on the first three is still alive but there is little to no betting on boxing. Women sports activities are a nonentity. Soccer attendance and betting are on the upswing (slightly). Horse racing attendance – as I had predicted years ago – decreased exponential and has recently leveled off at some minimum number. Betting on horseracing has survived but only because of the aforementioned simulcasting. Tax dollars and casinos continue to subsidize the sport. Breeders continue to rip off both the sport and the taxpayers despite their claim that “it’s impossible to make money. Take-outs have remained constant or increased slightly. Bottom line: the thoroughbred industry, similar to the standardbreds and dogs, is dying a slow death, and would be dead today, without subsidies (our tax dollars) and other outside revenue (OTB and casinos).
July and August is that time of year when the NYRA scene shifts from Belmont Park in New York City to upstate Saratoga Springs. It is also a time when NYRA will extol all the positive features of the Saratoga meet and why a visit to this very special town, steeped in history and tradition, is a must for the vacationer. For example, here are some of their quotes from earlier years: “Saratoga is the cradle of racing…the definitive place to be in August…..the grand old lady…streets lined with historic homes…sweet corn and ripe tomatoes practically off the vine…parties till the early morning hours…the Mecca of racing…”
Having attended the Saratoga meet the last 58 years (consecutively), I offer the following tidbits that the prospective visitor will not be provided by NYRA and the media. My fellow racegoers and I refer to them as Saratoga’s “Dirty Dozen”:
1. A significant portion of the racetrack is a firetrap.
2. Twenty dollar parking charges are the norm for Travers week and most Saturdays/Sundays. Most parking is inconvenient and not easily accessible unless you have a friend who drops you off/picks you up at your convenience.
3. The admission is $3 for the grandstand and $5 for the clubhouse.
4. Seating in the grandstand is $8; seating in the clubhouse is $10.
5. Room rates at a third-rate hotel in town are in the $225-$275/night range.
6. Expect long lines at the betting windows on all days. Don’t be surprised if you get shut out.
7. Standing in line is a ritual that NYRA has come to expect from its customers.
8. The track contains the most uncomfortable seats I have ever encountered at a racetrack. In addition, the spacing between rows is so narrow that it is extremely difficult to navigate.
9. The weather is a constant concern. Several severe thunderstorms are the norm during the meet. You’ll really enjoy sloshing through the mud. You can also expect several tote- board failures. This is not surprising when one realizes that the track’s infield tote board has not been fully operational–despite repeated apologies and excuses–for numerous years.
10. Because of the track’s archaic design, the view from the low vantage point (as opposed to the high one at Belmont Park) essentially prohibits a critical review and enjoyable view of the race.
11. Traffic congestion when arriving and upon leaving the track is a daily problem.
12. Expect to be gouged. The local businesses – which only have six weeks to capitalize on tourist trade – usually scale up prices during the racing meet. Expect to hand over an ample portion of any winnings for a decent dinner and a comfortable hotel room.

Summarizing, the problem with New York racing is NYRA. In the past, when racing did not need competent and dedicated management to succeed, there was little doubt that NYRA was run by bureaucratic incompetents. But as the times changed, and the marketplace became more crowded, NYRA’s new “suits” continue to fit into that same incompetent and indifferent category. Recent changes appear only to be based on NYRA’s attempt to maintain the status quo, and the new NYRA still hasn’t figured out that they are chasing customers away. The historical indifference of NYRA management to its customers is like a vile cancer: it continues to worsen.

Today, NYRA is a classic bureaucratic operation. It is an organization that stands tall among those groups in our country that have exploited the taxpayer for their own aggrandizement. The amazing aspect of the problem is that NYRA has not yet discovered how to stop the bleeding. The main cure would be to significantly reduce the takeout. The other hope for NYRA to reverse its decline is if it also changes its mentality toward its patron base. If NYRA could somehow treat its customers like it treats breeders, owners, jockeys, politicians and the media, the racing industry will be on its way to solving some of its problems. Unfortunately, the new NYRA is neither capable nor interested in implementing changes.

Lou Theodore

Here is what is on tap in the coming months:

August 1: On the New Cooper Union
September 1: On Chaste, Pristine, and XIX Random Thoughts
October 1: On the Barack Hussein Obama Legacy