New York's past performances

Six months ago, thoroughbred racing in New York stared into the abyss while the state's politicians, 10 years after the passage of enabling legislation, clumsily juggled the issues surrounding the question who if anyone would operate a racino at Aqueduct. After months of rallies, threats and doomsday rhetoric, the day was saved.

But wherever there is a New York politician, there is never the lack of calamity.

The really bad news is that the members of the state's legislative body, having failed to save NYCOTB at great cost to the taxpayers, are spurred to action. This is never good in New York.

The year draws to a close in New York with the racing game again in the grip of high anxiety. The betting shops in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island are dark and shuttered. The fraternity of clowns and scoundrels formerly known as the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation are among the unemployed. They have the fraternity of clowns and scoundrels known as the New York State Senate to thank for their plight. Tens of millions of dollars owed to the New York Racing Association, the state's breeders and racetracks across the nation are likely never to be paid. Fear mongering is in high gear.

In truth, however, NYCOTB is better dead. It was nothing more than a jobs program for the politically connected and overpaid, a corrupt, shameless, wasteful parasite that lived off an industry that it slowly bled. Unfortunately, over the course of four decades it became the New York Racing Association's principal vendor and the source of a major portion of funds for the state's breeder and owner incentive awards. NYCOTB owes money to many racetracks outside New York and though the state is now liable for the corporation's debt, the state is broke.

If failure of a pari-mutuel gambling enterprise spared the responsibility of supporting a product with purses and infrastructure is incomprehensible, the leaders of New York City OTB have written the recipe. Though the closure may have created a temporary crisis with the city's horseplayers, cast adrift as the New York Racing Association and other operators of advance deposit wagering platforms scramble to lure the former clients of NYCOTB, the long-range result may indeed be beneficial. Horseplayers will find new homes for phone and Internet accounts. Some may even visit Aqueduct and Belmont Park occasionally.

Still, the absence of OTB in the neighborhoods of New York City will sting for a while. Eighty percent of the handle flowed through storefront parlors, restaurants and tele-theaters. NYRA has begun bussing people from dark OTB parlors to Aqueduct and attendance was up last weekend, but not enough to scratch the surface of about $800,000 in evaporated daily handle. Belmont Park is open for simulcasting and both tracks are now open until the final race of the day is run in California. Construction is underway on a racino at Aqueduct that will be initially functional in late May. There is talk of a reduction of dates, which is not an entirely bad idea. NYRA may explore a now long-in-the-tooth authorization passed in the 1980s that allows it to operate up to six tele-theaters in places without OTB, originally seen as entry to Westchester County and Syracuse, where deals were never reached, but now applicable to New York City. The State Racing and Wagering Board has approved measures to facilitate the establishment of wagering accounts online and NYRA is hopeful that it will be permitted to stream live video on its website and that the dark television signal will be restored in the city. In one form or another, off-track wagering will eventually be restored in New York City.

The really bad news is that the members of the state's legislative body, having failed to save NYCOTB at great cost to the taxpayers, are spurred to action. This is never good in New York.

Before the last door was padlocked at OTB, Long Island Republican leader Dean Skelos, whose record in regard to racing issues is highly questionable if not entirely laughable, announced the creation of the Senate Republican Task Force on the Revitalization of the Racing Industry in New York, intended to develop long term solutions to the issues facing the racing industry.

"Rather than just debate short-term solutions, we need to come up with ways to strengthen the racing industry, to encourage job retention and creation, and ensure long-term stability," Senator Skelos said in a news release. "The task force will gather input from everyone involved with and impacted by racing in New York and make recommendations to address these issues in ways that benefit the industry, the fans and taxpayers."

You might think that a panel charged with an undertaking this important would be made up at least in part of people with skin in the game -- owners, horsemen, track operators. But since politicians like to think of themselves as the beginning and end of all things, this one is strictly political and strictly partisan: The task force will be chaired by Senator John Bonacic (R-I-C, Mount Hope) and will include Senator Roy McDonald (R-C-I, Saratoga), Senator Joseph Griffo (R-C, Rome), Senator Michael Nozzolio (R-C, Fayette), Senator Hugh Farley (R-C, Schenectady) and Senator Martin Golden (R-C, Brooklyn).

In the same news release, Senator Bonacic said: "Racing is more than about people sitting in betting parlors. It is about the sport -- making the tracks viable as racing entities -- not just places where VLTs are played. We need to focus on helping the breeders and horsemen since they are the infrastructure that develops a successful racing product. We then need to market racing in a manner which brings fans to the track and generates interest in the sport overall."

Not unexpectedly, the state's Democrats, who supported a bill that would have saved NYCOTB at the eleventh hour but failed to muster sufficient votes while several members -- enough to pass the measure -- failed to show up for the vote in a special session of the senate, have, probably not inaccurately, criticized the formation of the panel as little more than posturing.

The governor elect, Andrew Cuomo, has so far been silent on NYCOTB's implosion. Though an unknown factor whose father was not a friend of racing while he occupied the governor's mansion, Cuomo will be a key player in the industry's healing or suffering.

Obscured by the rhetoric there is the dire need of a comprehensive racing law in New York that restructures the OTB system under one umbrella, eliminates duplication, functions efficiently and supports racing and breeding, a participant rather than a parasitic competitor. That, however, may not be possible in New York. Look no further than the past performances.

Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award, and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He also has been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul can be contacted at pmoran1686@aol.com.