01/14/2013 11:17AM

Bergman: Dadoyan a new kind of executive director for the Standardbred Owners Association of New York

Alex Dadoyan

When Alex Dadoyan was named the new executive director of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York this past week it led some in the industry to wonder, What’s the big deal?

Until now the position seemed to be that of an administrator of the daily operations of a horsemen’s group. In other words, supervise an office, take care of health and welfare concerns and answer questions that arise on occasion from horsemen.

The SOANY’s retiring executive director George Casale has pretty much handled the position as a second job for quite some time.

The SOANY has been ably led for some time by Joe Faraldo, who for those who haven’t been watching, has been waging an all too public war with Jeff Gural, the current Chairman at the Meadowlands as well as Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs in New York state.

Well it just so happens that Dadoyan was employed by the Meadowlands before Gural took ownership of the track. His presence was in fact vital to many of the concerns Gural had during that sticky period he was attempting to negotiate with Governor Christie and the state of New Jersey.

For Dadoyan, the period once Gural took over put him on a new path. He was placed in a position loosely titled “Director of Racing” after a tenure moving up the ranks in racetrack management at the Meadowlands. Along the way Dadoyan, who like Casale and Faraldo has a law degree (Fordham), seemed to grasp the gambling side of the business in a much better way than other “suits” in the building.

A few years back I spoke with Dadoyan about vital changes he deemed necessary to improve the Meadowlands handle. Among them was a reduction in takeout in the pick 4 (now 15 percent). He also knew from an early stage the extreme difference between a “guaranteed” pool and a “carryover” and what affect each would have on attracting handle.

So what exactly is this racetrack manager with experience on one side of the building suddenly doing running a horsemen’s group?

Dadoyan confirmed that he wasn’t taking the position just to be an administrator.

“I think there’s a lot of things I bring from the racetrack side that can benefit the horsemen,” Dadoyan said in regard to his appointment, which takes effect on Feb. 1.

While he didn’t go into details, some of the topics Dadoyan covered suggested that the track would look to expand wagering to other countries, perhaps extending to Europe.

What Dadoyan didn’t say, but appears obvious just from his selection to this position, is a clear shift in attitude from Faraldo and the Standardbred Owners of New York. For far too long the group has trumpeted the addition of slots at Yonkers Raceway and its increased purse structure as a win-win for the horsemen and the state of New York. The group seemed to show only minimal concern that despite tripling the purse fund with the addition of slot revenue, track handle did not come close to achieving such gains.

The horsemen at Yonkers, before slots, had to be concerned about every dollar that was pumped through the pari-mutuel machines. That interest tended to be obscured once slot handle became the dominant force in producing purse funds. Yet in 2012 when the political settings in Ontario, one of the first locales where slot funds were used to propel purses and improve the sport, cancelled a very successful program, it sent shock waves to this industry.

There’s no certainty that this type of political change is what motivated Faraldo and his organization to think outside their box and pluck a person with “gambling” experience into an organization that has always been dominated by trainers, owners and drivers. The SOANY did seek input from some gamblers last year but clearly not with the background of Dadoyan and none able to sit in on high level conversations and discuss the major changes needed.

Dadoyan not only understands gambling on both thoroughbred and standardbred racing, but he’s a rather accomplished poker player as well. That last attribute may be what serves him the best in his new position.
If in fact Faraldo selected Dadoyan to lead and not follow, it makes sense to listen to ways to improve the Yonkers gambling product. What Dadoyan has at Yonkers that he didn’t have at his disposal at the Meadowlands is a guaranteed purse fund from the slot operations. He spoke a few years back when the Meadowlands was reducing takeout on certain wagers how he would have loved the chance to experiment with one day of no takeout.

Now at Yonkers, Dadoyan has the chance to convince horsemen to try some things that haven’t been tried before. He appears to have been given the platform by Faraldo to look for ways to increase handle.

But some will say that Dadoyan should be working for the racetrack and not the horsemen if those changes are to be effected.

Well, this is 2013 and it may have been 10-15 years overdue, but finally horsemen have recognized that a large portion of responsibility for handle rests on their shoulders.

The big news is that with one appointment there has been a severe attitude change. The SOANY will be adding someone who has a keen understanding of the gambling mind set. He understands how things get done at a racetrack. The gut feeling is that he accepted this position with the understanding that he was going to spend most of his time solving problems relating to handle rather than to health insurance.

“I’ve been in this business a long time and I’m still under 40,” Dadoyan said.

That may be the best news yet.

In a struggling business sometimes the first step is recognizing that there is a problem and the second step is to find a way to fix it. It seems clear from this move that the Standardbred Owners of New York have in fact recognized what the problem is and have done a fantastic job in finding a means to fix it.