Can it be two months since that the situation with the New York Racing Association was so dire that the Cuomo Administration felt it necessary to engage in a campaign of character assassination, innuendo and bare knuckle politics to seize control of NYRA and New York’s racing? What’s happened since then?
- Cuomo’s legislation, the “Racing Accountability and Transparency Act,” was enacted by the Legislature without amendment, and only one dissenting vote in the Senate. I cannot find what the vote was in the Assembly. So a major industry in New York is taken over by state government with no one in authority - including an all-too complicit media - dissenting.
- According to the Governor’s on-line press office and the Legislature’s web site, the bill that was passed a month ago has yet to be signed by the Governor.
- Fredric U. Dicker, in Monday’s New York Post, reports that Cuomo is waiting until after the Saratoga meet to put NYRA “out of its scandal-scarred misery.” We know that Dicker, who is writing a biography of Cuomo with the Governor’s cooperation, may not be the most objective observer, but he at least has good sources. He quotes one unnamed source as saying that “Saratoga will be the last hurrah for the blue bloods who have controlled [NYRA] for so long.” I guess we will have to wait for the “Accountability and Transparency Act” to be signed to discover if this is the official position of the Administration.
- The State Legislature, totally on board with accountability and transparency, enacted another law in the last minutes of the session giving Catskill OTB the authority to reopen OTB parlors in New York City. You may recall the defunct NYC OTB as that rarest of gambling businesses - one that could lose money despite being guaranteed a percentage of wagers taken. Why does the Catskill OTB ring a bell? They were the enablers of what has to be the biggest betting scandal ever. In 2002, their tote machines permitted an individual to make a wager on the Breeders’ Cup Pick Six after the first two races had been run. Had the bettor not been as dim-witted as the security folks at Catskill, he may well have gotten away with a multi-million dollar payout. While vetoing this legislation would seem to be a no-brainer for the self-proclaimed integrity-conscious Cuomo Administration, the web sites of the Governor and Legislature do not reveal whether this has happened yet.
- The Franchise Oversight Board, one of four state agencies responsible for oversight of NYRA under the pre-”Accountability and Transparency Act” days, and chaired by Cuomo’s Budget Director, released its annual report. While portions of the report look like a shoddy high school term paper meeting a pages requirement (do we really need to know that Channing Hill was the 10th leading jockey at the Aqueduct spring meet?), the report contains some truly disturbing indications of where the Cuomo NYRA is moving. While the importance of VLT revenues to racing has been an unquestioned assumption through the many years it took state leaders to conduct an unblemished procurement for a VLT operator, the Franchise Oversight Board concluded, “NYRA must establish a long-term financial goal to end its reliance on VLT subsidies and immediately develop plans on how it will meet this goal.”
So there you have it. A manufactured crisis in the spring resulted in the extraordinary takeover of a major industry by state government. This is the same state government that has yet to demonstrate through its past performances that it is capable of honestly and efficiently managing anything related to racing, let alone complete control of it. It is the same state government that in the report issued by the Franchise Oversight Board identified payments made to racing by the private operator of Aqueduct’s VLT terminals as a “substantial investment made by the State.” Yes, the payments are required under state law, but there is no state money involved. It is the individuals who patronize the Aqueduct casino whose wagers go to racing. Let’s not forget that it these long-delayed payments that finally enabled the “old” NYRA to project a profit for this year.
We now await the next stage of this drama. One of the recommendations in the recent report by the Franchise Oversight Board is the need to “grow fan interest in the sport.” While this is so obvious to anyone who is a racing fan, and is something that bedevils racing jurisdictions across the country, I am having a difficult time seeing how this occurs under a Governor whose interest in racing seems to be limited to its effect on his priority of bringing casinos to New York. Or is this all just a parochial battle to get rid of the “blue bloods?”