by Paul Post
Saratoga Race Course dorms are getting a $250,000 electrical system upgrade so backstretch workers can use air conditioners in the stifling summer heat.
Last year, a number of stable area workers suffered heat-related problems. An area physician criticized the New York Racing Association for failing to provide adequate living conditions.
Until now, NYRA has prohibited air conditioners because the concrete block dorms—built in the 1950s—did not have sufficient electrical capacity. Air conditioners, or heaters during colder months, could overload the antiquated system and cause a fire.
When dorms were built, the racing season was four weeks long. It continually has expanded and last year grew to 40 days, from late July to Labor Day weekend in September.
NYRA President Charles Hayward said on Monday that the situation will be remedied this year by upgrading the old system. No major improvements are expected at the track until NYRA starts getting money for capital improvements from Aqueduct’s new racino, which is slated to open this summer.
Construction will not begin until after the 2012 racing season, he said.
“One thing that’s new is we won’t be talking about not racing at Saratoga,” Hayward said.
This time a year ago, NYRA threatened to shut down by early summer if the state did not provide needed financial help. This year, the organization is in much better financial shape, despite the December closure of New York City Off-Track Betting Corp.
Genting New York LLC, the firm building Aqueduct’s racino, is loaning NYRA money to keep operating until video lottery terminals are operational. Also, NYRA recently got $7.7-million from a New York City OTB escrow account and has captured a significant share of the money previously wagered with OTB.
Hayward said NYRA’s Internet and telephone account wagering business for January 2011 was up 125% and 99%, respectively, compared with January 2010. He said NYRA’s account deposit wagering revenue will be greater than all five of New York’s remaining off-track betting entities combined this year.
While stopping short of endorsing a complete NYRA takeover, Hayward also said the state’s Thoroughbred and Harness tracks collectively should be allowed to control New York’s off-track betting product, similar to the model found in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Arizona.
“We’re very concerned about the financial condition of the remaining OTBs,” he said. “Suffolk [OTB] owes us $1-million.”