03/10/2016 3:36PM

Crist: Big Brother needed for NYRA board meetings


Racing’s worst reality-TV show returned to the airwaves after a three-month hiatus Thursday with a one-hour meeting of the New York Racing Association Reorganization Board. The largely government-appointed NYRARB was established by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2012 to replace the old NYRA board he had dissolved. It has held 24 meetings, all of them streamed live on the Internet as part of Cuomo’s demands for “accountability” and “transparency.”

Thursday’s episode was no less contrived or more informative than its predecessors. Now in its fifth calendar year of existence, the NYRARB has yet to have a single meaningful public discussion regarding its sole reason to exist: its mandate to create a plan to return New York racing to private, nonprofit control. More than a year after its initial deadline to present such a plan, the board once again was silent Thursday while saying that the long-awaited plan will be presented for board approval as soon as next month. What’s in it is anyone’s guess.

This is accountability and transparency?

This is not the fault of the people installed on the board or in NYRA’s executive offices. By any metrics, New York racing is doing pretty well these days, especially when compared to some other prominent jurisdictions. Purses are up, fatal accidents are down, the racing product and simulcast presentation are strong, and handle on New York races has surpassed California’s as the nation’s highest.

The board meetings have become little more than staged recitations of these statistics, which are ultimately supposed to showcase the wisdom and success of the governor’s office. These self-congratulatory presentations leave little or no time for discussions of the organization’s or the sport’s future, or for issues the wagering public actually cares about, such as takeout rates and withholding-tax reform.

Will Aqueduct remain in business? Will Belmont be renovated as a year-round facility? What, if anything, will replace the defunct OTB system in New York City? Will there ever be another Breeders’ Cup in New York? The answers to these questions, far from transparent, remain entirely opaque.

Instead, the board wastes its time on items such as Thursday’s lengthy discussion of whether NYRA should endorse the proposed Tonko-Barr bill to establish a national anti-doping regulatory authority. The Jockey Club-backed bill has failed to gather a critical mass of support within the industry or much interest in the halls of Congress, and lobbyists say it has less than a 1 in 100 chance of even being introduced. The board voted to back it anyway because, as one board member put it, “We can support it without spending any money.”

After the board spent 20 minutes discussing whether to support a dead-on-arrival piece of legislation, it devoted roughly two minutes to the report of its long-term planning committee. That committee said it will finally make its recommendations next month in the form of a reorganization plan, proposed legislation, and a business plan, which will be presented to the board “for approval.”

Even after years of sloth, this seems hasty and presumptuous. Will anyone outside the board, such as the sport’s customers and participants, be given a chance to weigh in? Will the plan be pre-approved, and to what extent was it authored, by the governor’s office? To what extent will state bureaucrats, rather than racing people, continue to make the rules?

Decision-making regarding the future of New York racing has never been less transparent, and it is folly to think that broadcasting board meetings accomplishes anything. Real businesses conduct their board meetings in private and argue their way through disagreements. Of course the NYRARB meetings seem fake because no one is going to discuss things like competitive business strategies or personnel issues with the public listening in. The illusion that business is being conducted in clear public view actually accomplishes the opposite of its supposed purpose: It limits and discourages frank discussion.

The myth of transparency moves from disingenuous to dangerous when it means that there is in fact no meaningful public discussion of the future. Like other reality-TV shows, this one is scripted and insincere, promulgating the fiction that the public is getting an insider’s view of something real.

Michael Beauregard More than 1 year ago
I used to go to Saratoga and hang out at the paddock fence and view the beautiful horses. .Every year NYRA takes away some of this area to install another Bar. A few years ago they installed a air cond. tent with big howling fans . This drove many of my friends away from that area . No body goes into this tent look at your receipts you lose money on this Why keep it. People don't go to the track to drink. Its about horses . I could go on and on . .
Larry Kaufman More than 1 year ago
last year they took away 50 + feet of paddock fence to fence off 100 picnic tables $40 mon-fri $60 on weekends. mon-thur 10-15 tables were sold and maybe 80 on weekends.they wouldn't let you in without a wristband. under chris kay every inch of saratoga is for sale. whats next pay toilets? by the way i just walk into picnic table area thru the exit.
RingForFrodo More than 1 year ago
Russell and MikeNYC are exactly right. The business model in New York and California that insists on year round racing is a disaster for field size in both states. Short fields and sky high exotic takeout rates, (nothing worse for a business to offer a poor product at a non-competitive price) are the perfect storm for disaster. The self-serving clowns in charge are only interested in protecting their turf and continue to have no interest in making decisions for the greater good of the industry.
Paul More than 1 year ago
horse racing needs a czar....bad..............tough with all the diff rules...
Vince Piscitelli More than 1 year ago
Why should or would the DRF not continue raising prices? There are many, many desperate idiots out there like myself who continue to purchase it at whatever cost. Vince P
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Larry Kaufman More than 1 year ago
what you are saying is so true. perfect example is how gulfstream park uses 2 turf courses like belmont and saratoga. DRF should have a inner and outer track symbol for gulfstream.i have asked mr crist and other DRF employees and other people in racing, but no one will answer my question with a real answer.they give me a BS answer that they move the rail, NO THEY USE 2 SEPARATE COURSES IN THE SAME DAY. inner turf at 12ft outer at 84ft or inner at 24 and outer at 96. I DARE MR CRIST TO GIVE ME A TRUTHFUL ANSWER.i don't think he reads the comments
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Look, it is not a useless waste of time to discuss having nationwide oversight about medications in racing. Stop digging your heels in against it, as if sweeping the dirt under the rug will fool everyone. You only look like a fool when you ignore the inevitable solution to the death of the sport.
ed More than 1 year ago
It is the new world of wagering. With online wagering now readily available, NYRA doesn't need its live racing crowd. It doesn't want the expense of upkeep and service and cost of labor. They had a TC winner and they limited the crowd? Why? Because they can't handle the crowd and why make an effort to make more money. Aqueduct is a question mark and you would think they would invest more money into Belmont. Once they screw up Saratoga, they won't have much to fall back on. I guess they could always increase the takeout to ensure their bonuses. I would recommend to hire people who will work just for their salaries and reinvest the savings into the horse end of the business. Their meetings sound like a circle jerk with lots of suits and no one representing the long lost horsemen and bettors. Are we destined for virtual racing in the future? The track closings are getting scary.
Mike45nyc More than 1 year ago
Steve, seriously?racing product is horrific in spite on monster subsidies.Money be poured down a dark hole with maiden NY bred garbage racing for inflated purses. NYRA needs complete management and presentation overhaul starting with neophyte Kay and his clueless bean counters. Price increases at every turn with no customer benefit, much like DRF.
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Larry Kaufman More than 1 year ago
that ship is sinking fast, just keep raising prices and add useless things like pace ace. i don't think mr crist reads any of the posts
RingForFrodo More than 1 year ago
Other than Saratoga and Del Mar) the product in New York and Caifornia is weak. Only 7.7 horses per race at Belmont (Santa Anita is even worse) started in 2015? Several tracks are far more playable than the latter. Thanks to clueless leadership, racing in both states is a total embarrassment. Especially now. the product at Aqueduct and Santa Anita is putrid compared to Oaklawn and Gulfstream
Dale Tillotson More than 1 year ago
sounds like the broadcast of the meetings is a very low key Donald Trump production. Talk some say nothing.