SARATOGA SPRINGS —New York Racing Association is the thoroughbred industry’s “central nervous system” that needs protecting at all costs, the state’s chief racing regulator said Tuesday.
New York State Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John Sabini discussed a variety of topics, from New York City Off Track Betting to an Interstate Racing Compact, with members of the state Senate’s Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee at the state Capitol in Albany.
However, NYRA’s future, in the wake of New York City OTB’s Dec. 8 closure, is of paramount importance.
“NYRA has the ability to establish tele-theaters right now if they wanted to (in New York City),” Sabini said. “They’re looking into that.”
NYRA President and Chief Executive Officer Charles Hayward could not immediately be reached for comment.
Under current law, NYRA could open New York tele-theaters with few hurdles to clear, Sabini said.
Or, a franchise could be put out to bid or a new off-track betting firm created sometime down the road. But those steps would require state approvals, he said.
“Right now it’s a wide open playing field,” Sabini said.
NYRA has taken a number of aggressive steps to capture some of the $750 million previously wagered with New York City OTB. Most recently, talks have been under way to have NYRA take harness racing bets on its website.
“We’re hoping to facilitate it,” Sabini said. “They’re (NYRA) sort of the central nervous system of racing. If you don’t keep them alive, everything falls apart.”
Committee member Roy J. McDonald, R-Saratoga, said the panel has a full plate of agenda items to deal with in 2011.
“This is the beginning of what will be a very aggressive year,” he said. “There’s got to be a long-term plan for the racing and wagering community of New York and it’s got to be lead by the governor. I plan on working with him.”
Other tracks should try to replicate Saratoga’s family atmosphere to improve on-track attendance and handle, he said. To many people, Saratoga Race Course is part of a larger vacation experience that includes visits to local museums, restaurants, Saratoga Performing Arts Center and Lake George. Other tracks should try to market themselves that way, too, McDonald said.
Several lawmakers, including Sen. Joseph Addabbo, D-Queens, raised concerns about the impact of a proposed Indian casino on Aqueduct’s new racino. In late 2010, former Gov. David Paterson announced plans for a Wisconsin tribe to build a full-scale casino in the Catskills, about two hours from New York City.
“It’s not just me,” Addabbo said. “Other racetracks around the state, even those at Aqueduct and the thoroughbred industry, are concerned.”
However, Assembly racing committee Chairman J. Gary Pretlow, D-Yonkers, says an Indian casino is highly unlikely. A St. Regis Mohawk casino proposal was rejected last year because the Department of Interior said it was too far from their reservation, near Buffalo.
“The thought was the proposed casino should be in at least commuting distance from the so-called reservation to the casino,” he said Tuesday. “Now, if Buffalo was too far from Sullivan County, I’m pretty sure that Wisconsin is a lot farther and a more difficult commute.”
Even if it’s approved, Pretlow said he believes an Indian casino would get tied up in court for years.
Sabini, speaking for himself and not the board, said he believes an Indian casino would have minimal impact on Aqueduct.
“They’re (New York City) a long ways from a saturation point,” he said.
A Spectrum Gaming Group study, released Monday, said New York state gaming revenues are projected to rise 32 percent — to $771 million — this year, primarily because of Aqueduct’s new racino, along with continued growth at Yonkers Raceway.
Meanwhile, Atlantic City, which has lost 41 percent of its business since 2006, is expected to see revenue fall another 13 percent this year, the study says.