Jessica Chapel / Railbird

State Politics

New York, New York

Huh:

Gov. Cuomo, in a startling move, has decided to “privatize” the running of the famed Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga thoroughbred tracks with a new management company that will replace the scandal-scarred New York Racing Association, The Post has learned.

I have no idea how this will play out, can make no predictions on how New York racing will be changed in the coming years, but do wish I could shake the unease and cynicism that comes with everything I read of Cuomo’s plans.

Five days until Super Saturday. Try to enjoy. (Maybe a little Kelso will help?)

9/25/12 Addendum: Tom Noonan gives three reasons why privatization isn’t such a hot idea. Cuomo walks back the report, according to the New York Times, saying privatization is just one option that might be considered.

9/27/12 All you need to read on the subject: “I don’t see this happening.”

Raises? Yes!

Are you kidding me? Of all the things to complain about when it comes to New York racing, NYRA giving 327 non-union employees average pay raises of 3% is pretty far down the list. In any other year or any other industry, such a raise would be a run-of-the-mill annual cost-of-living increase. But in New York, and at NYRA, it’s an outrage! It’s arrogance! Especially because NYC OTB just closed! The New York Post, which breathlessly reports that “top managers” are getting raises and fraudulently invokes the specter of a state bailout for NYRA, gives space to grandstanding politician Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee chairman Gary Pretlow to denounce NYRA as “bloated” and the raises as “an irresponsible act.” The Sarotogian headlines an editorial today, “Raises? Really?” and calls NYRA “tone deaf.” Nick Kling writes:

Non-union employees may get their additional money, but in the process NYRA has generated enough bad feeling to guarantee it will come back to bite the association when it wants something in the future.

That’s absurd. Here’s the thing: 3% — or even the average 5.5% given to 10 employees — isn’t that much money. NYRA president Charles Hayward, who defended the raises as the first given non-union workers since January 2008, told the Blood-Horse that the raises will cost NYRA approximately $600,000 in added payroll next year. That works out to around $1835 a year (or $153 a month, $35 a week) per employee, which raises the average salary of those workers from approximately $60,000 a year to around $62,000 a year. That’s $62,000 in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and at a time of great challenge to NYRA — with NYC OTB closing last week, and the Aqueduct racino opening in 2011, NYRA needs to retain its workers (and it really needs its workers to feel good about their jobs) if it’s not only going to survive what’s ahead, but come out thriving. Giving end-of-the-year raises to the rank-and-file is a strategic and morale-boosting move at a crucial moment in the organization’s history. Sorry, but there’s nothing outrageous about that.

Saturday Notes

NYRA keeps up its efforts to capture displaced OTB bettors, adding dark day simulcasting at Aqueduct and more bus routes from the city to the track. According to DRF, another 74 NYRA Rewards accounts were opened on Thursday, bringing the number of new accounts opened over the past couple weeks to 300. Friday’s on-track handle (which includes money bet through NYRA’s ADW) was $572,687, or $36,327 more than Thursday’s on-track handle; $22,125 more than the previous Friday. Slow, but steady gains? They must be hoping the pace picks up a little. Adding streaming video to the service would be a boon, but making that little change is tied up in the NYSRWB and, quite possibly, the legislature. Brooklyn Backstretch has been keenly following that part of the story.

Meanwhile, on Friday, the state senate Republicans announced the newly formed Task Force on the Revitalization of the Racing Industry in New York. Said task force member senator John Bonacic: “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.” Good luck, New Yorkers. [12/13/10 Addition: Over on ESPN, Paul Moran comments: “But wherever there is a New York politician, there is never the lack of calamity.”]

Juvenile graded stakes racing winds down for the year with the Hollywood Starlet, which drew eight fillies, today and the Hollywood Futurity next Saturday. “A field of 13 or 14 is shaping up for the 30th running of the race,” including JP’s Gusto and Delta Jackpot winner Gourmet Dinner. Joe Talamo, back from injury, will be on JP’s Gusto once again. The jockey rode the horse through his first three starts. Pat Valezuala then had the mount through the Breeders’ Cup, winning the Del Mar Futurity and Best Pal with JP’s Gusto.

What a process, getting Zenyatta settled into farm life.

Slots Losers

As maddening, petty, and inept as I found New York state politics during the four years I lived in Brooklyn — particularly when it came to anything having to do with the Aqueduct racino or OTB — the explanation for the ostensibly irrational often lay in asking, cui bono? Because someone was usually, pretty nakedly, making out in campaign cash, political power, or patronage jobs. Not so in Massachusetts state politics, which are no less maddening, etc., for reasons that more often seem opaque, personal, or tribal.

Take, for instance, the apparently dead expanded gaming legislation. Never before, in almost two decades of debate, has Massachusetts come so close to allowing casinos and racinos. In the final hours of the legislative session on July 31, the House overwhelmingly approved a bill authorizing three casinos and two racetrack slots licenses. The Senate approved the same, two votes shy of a veto-proof margin. The governor, up for re-election, said he’d accept three casinos (his original stance), but only one racino, a compromise position he then backed off, returning the final bill with an amendment effectively killing racetrack slots. Explained Patrick of his reversal:

“We do this over and over again in the Commonwealth: We yield to the short-term interests of a few powerful people, and we set aside the long-term, best economic and social interests of the Commonwealth.”

(Let’s have a little fun with Deval Patrick’s campaign speak:

“We do this over and over again in [politics]: We yield to the short-term interests of [the upcoming election cycle], and we set aside the long-term, best economic and social interests of the [citizens].”

That really was too easy.)

There are those holding out hope that the legislature will be called back into session and that a resolution will be reached. I’d price that happening as a longshot so long the tote board tops out at 99-1. House leader Robert DeLeo — whose district includes Suffolk Downs and Wonderland, and who’s expended tremendous political capital accomplishing more than anyone ever has on the issue — has dug in, insisting on two racinos. “Asking me to go further than that is truly unreasonable,” he told the Boston Globe. Senate president Therese Murray is skeptical a deal could be reached, and quietly, stubbornly opposes calling lawmakers back.

Meanwhile, Plainridge, the state’s sole harness track, has already announced layoffs. Suffolk Downs has made no statements, but the rumors about the track’s future are wild and ominous.

Cui bono? No one.

2:45 PM Addendum: Tweets @jenmontfort, “It’s just so disappointing to be so close and to let political tomfoolery (on ALL sides) get in the way.” Exactly. And yet, it’s hardly surprising. This is the state, after all, where tomfoolery once led to the simulcasting law expiring on the eve of the Florida Derby.

Loan Is Not a “Bailout”

Ugh. This Blood-Horse headline qualifies as a gross error:

Blood-Horse NYRA loan story headline

An Associated Press article has the slightly better headline, “Paterson: NYRA, Saratoga meet will be saved,” so readers aren’t told the proposed $17 million loan is a bailout … until the story’s first sentence. While not overlooking the good news that the state may come through with the money it’s obligated to provide NYRA (money it desperately needs) if the Aqueduct racino wasn’t in operation this spring, it’s hard to see the inaccurate characterization of the deal in the AP lede, and in at least one headline from a publication that should know better, as anything other than a public relations disaster. I look forward to the inevitable editorials and letters demanding to know why New York, with its seven weeks overdue budget, is “bailing out” the undeserving NYRA, when it’s merely fulfilling the promises of the franchise agreement made in 2008.

5/19/10 Update: Never mind? Matt Hegarty reports in DRF that the Governor’s comments “did not reflect any substantive progress” towards a legislative resolution to NYRA’s situation. “I think they’ll pass it,” said Paterson of the proposed loan plan on Tuesday, but a few legislators may balk.

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Meanwhile, in California …

A shame CHRB cut meeting webcasts in January; items #10 and #11 on the board’s Thursday meeting agenda (PDF) should be quite interesting. Magna (MI Developments) is scheduled to give an update on its future racing plans, which won’t include Santa Anita president Ron Charles. He’s resigned, effective Wednesday. A discussion of the voided Oak Tree lease (and potential impact on Oak Tree dates this fall) is to follow. Oak Tree had been talking with the Breeders’ Cup about hosting the event permanently; MI’s decision to pull the lease, affirmed only two weeks before, has complicated those negotiations. “Maybe this will derail BCup freight chugging into SA station,” tweeted Nick Kling. Maybe. Del Mar executives, who have offered the track to Oak Tree, are hoping it might renew the possibility of a Del Mar Breeders’ Cup.

Tough Times Ahead

As if there were doubt that the aftermath of the recent hard-fought Kentucky slots battle would be rough, turf writer Lenny Shulman fires away at state senator Damon Thayer, who works in the industry but kept quiet through the debate: “If there is any justice, the next job that will be lost because of you and your buddies, will be yours.”