by Paul Post
An off-track betting report filed on Monday warns that New York racing will be in peril if the study’s recommendations are not followed quickly.
The Task Force on the Future of Off-Track Betting held a series of hearings throughout the state last year in an attempt to solve New York’s troubled off-track wagering system, comprised of six regional corporations. On Monday, the panel filed a roughly 200-page report with Governor David Paterson and legislative leaders.
“We’re reaching a crisis that involves [the] New York Racing Association,” Chairman John Van Lindt said. “The six OTBs together give NYRA $100-million per year; New York City OTB $55-million alone. If OTB fails, NYRA fails.”
At present, Western Regional OTB is the only one thriving because it owns Batavia Raceway and gets a share of its video gaming revenue. New York City OTB is in bankruptcy and the four others are teetering on marginal profitability and will sink into the red within a year’s time unless prompt action is taken, Van Lindt said.
The report also said New York’s Thoroughbred breeding industry is hurting because of the state’s failure to name a gaming operator for Aqueduct.
“It’s a different issue, but it’s closely related,” Van Lindt said.
The report recommends against a NYRA takeover of any of the off-track betting outlets because of its own precarious financial condition. NYRA says it will run out of money by June without a cash infusion from the state or an Aqueduct gaming operator.
One of the report’s most startling revelations is that wagering at New York’s racetrack casinos totals $12-million, versus $2.4-million in handle for actual races. There currently are eight racinos at seven harness tracks and Finger Lakes Race Track, an upstate Thoroughbred venue near Rochester. Aqueduct would be the state’s ninth racino and is scheduled to have 4,500 video lottery terminals.
The study said the six off-track betting outlets should have one tote contract and consolidate their marketing efforts, Internet, and television systems to save money. Several other highlights were made. They are:
• Off-track betting outlets should no longer be required to make payments to tracks that have VLTs;
• The tracks and off-track betting outlets should negotiate together for one simulcasting contract and there should be a cap on what they are required to pay;
• Out-of-state account deposit wagering firms such as HorseRacing TV should be licensed and/or regulated and subject to licensing fees. At present, off-track betting outlets have to pay such fees while out-of-state companies do not.
The report does not call for consolidating the six off-track betting outlets into one statewide entity.
“We don’t feel politically that’s a viable option,” Van Lindt said. “That’s been proposed in the past and nothing was done. We only wanted to recommend things we thought were practical and doable. We’re not going to chase after empty wagons.”