NYRA resorts to the old misdirection play

December, 10, 2013

The misdirection play, which can work so well when properly schemed in the NFL, apparently has its place in Thoroughbred racing.

In New York, home of the state-controlled New York Racing Association, there has been a large outcry over the groups Board of Directors vote on Dec. 4 to approve a 2014 budget that includes an increase in admission fees at Belmont Park and Saratoga that total an extra $2 for the grandstand and $3 for the clubhouse. Parking fees, box seating at Saratoga and NYRAs charge to simulcast outlets for its signal are also slated to rise.

Its purely and simply a bad idea on all fronts, and the spin NYRA CEO and President Christopher Kay is putting on the admission prices deserves its own time slot on Comedy Central. He paints admission fees as a great bargain because of what fans must pay to go to a Yankees or Knicks game, which makes as much sense as saying paying a $15 toll to cross the nearby Whitestone Bridge to and from work is a great deal because it costs $75 to sit in the Pepsi Porch at Citi Field.

Apparently, casino money, which was supposed to be NYRAs golden goose, is not the remedy for all of the organizations ills.

Professional sporting events, where people pay to watch something, are on one level and racetracks are another, along with casinos. While the Yankees may want you to spend $1,500 to get into the building so you can sit behind home plate and watch a game, a casino wants you to come inside and then wager $1,500. Thus casinos will make it enticing to visit them through free admission and parking and perks like reduced prices for meals and bonuses for regular players.

NYRA, which does not have to make up for an item like spending $153 million on Jacoby Ellsbury, should, of course, mirror a casino, not the Yankees, but thats not what is most important here.

What needs to be examined is not the rate of the increase, but why its needed. The misdirection play.

Apparently, casino money, which was supposed to be NYRAs golden goose, is not the remedy for all of the organizations ills. In laying out NYRAs proposed budget for 2014, its now coming out that NYRA must pay taxes on revenue from the casino, so it is not realizing as much cash as expected from its new competition for wagering dollars and it needs new revenue streams like the bump in admission.

And so, as the state-controlled NYRA says its handle is down $34 million through September, the privately owned Resort World Casino, which is housed in what used to be Aqueducts grandstand, turned a net profit of $14.8 million for the week ending Nov. 30 and the pendulum has swung in a different direction.

The casino, which was supposed to support the racetrack, and, yes, education in New York, has grown far richer and powerful than the racetrack and the racing industry. And with the state looking to turn NYRA back into private hands in 2015, it apparently has no intentions now of reducing NYRAs tax strain or giving more money to the racetrack from the booming casino. Instead, with a desire to put money in other pockets, the state and its appointees at NYRA wants to lessen the dependency on casino cash and is asking Joe Fan to cough up extra money, which is basically page 2 in the Politicians Handbook: When money gets tight, raise taxes.

The old, privately owned NYRA would have squawked about whats going on. But with the chain of command ultimately leading back to Governor Andrew Cuomo in Albany, we get a rationale that paying $5 to get into Belmont Park, which has already been reduced to a ghost town on most days, is a great deal because the Yankees charge you $50 to sit in the upper deck. Not a peep asking the governor to give the racing industry -- not to mention its workers and the customers who support the sport and already have millions taken out their wagering dollars by the government - what it deserves.

NYRA says it will gauge the response to the increased fees and perhaps rescind them, but meanwhile, thousands of people stream into the Resorts World casino free of charge every hour and wager tens of millions of dollars every week as horse racing becomes a lesser and lesser player in the equation.

Ah, the wonders of a misdirection play.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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