12/14/2012 4:40PM

Crist: Much time required for NYRA's massive tasks


The most important thing that was accomplished at the board meeting of the New York Racing Association on Wednesday, the first since it was put under government control last August, was the education of its new chairman that he had severely underestimated the enormity of his task and the time required to fulfill it.

David Skorton, the president of Cornell University and a racing neophyte, was appointed to the chairmanship Oct. 18 by Governor Andrew Cuomo. He scheduled his first board meeting for Dec. 12 and planned to hold future meeting on a quarterly basis, with the next one penciled in for early March. When asked early in the meeting how often he wanted seven subcommittees to meet, he said he hoped that they could convene at least as often as the full board did, perhaps earlier in the day of those meetings, once every three months.

It reminded me of the first meeting , 20 years and two months earlier, of then-Governor Mario Cuomo’s “Commission on Racing in the 21st Century,” to which I was one of nine appointees. We were charged with delivering a comprehensive report on reforming the industry within nine months and I was prepared for an intense, full-time engagement. Someone asked how often we would meet and our chairman said “Once a month seems about right.” I actually began to laugh, thinking he was kidding, but he wasn’t.

Skorton at least proved to be a quick study: Less than two hours into his first meeting, he acknowledged that quarterly meetings would not be enough and said he planned to call the next one for sometime in January. Skorton is clearly not going to be like past NYRA chairmen, who attended the races regularly and had working offices at all three NYRA tracks, but we must measure progress incrementally amid the tortoise pace of government control and monthly beats quarterly when it comes to addressing problems.

Skorton, who came off as affable and an expert at running smooth meetings, had his change of heart after being exposed to only the tips of a few of the icebergs that NYRA must navigate in the months ahead.

NYRA has been without a chief executive for more than six months and is just starting to search for a new one. It is understaffed in other departments as employees have left amid the political turmoil without being replaced. It has yet to develop an agenda for the legislative session that begins early next year, or a position and plan to address the prospect of full casino gambling in the state.

It has dumped a vast trove of racino revenue into purses without making badly needed capital improvements because every important project been stalled under orders from various government agencies. (Why, for example, is there a government-run “Franchise Oversight Board” reviewing NYRA contracts and policies when NYRA itself is now a government-run Franchise Oversight Board?)

It is unclear whether Skorton or the new board members appointed by the Governor are even aware of all these shortcomings, but they at least got a taste of them in comments from some holdover board members. They noted that the Aqueduct facility has never been more decrepit and uninviting, that the tracks’ infrastructure needs immediate attention, and that NYRA needs to invest in improved tote and technology. (Skorton called technology improvements a top priority, ironically, amid a board meeting that was ineptly presented on an unwatchable live webcast filled with long dropouts and buffering delays.)

The meeting did have its occasional moments of comic relief. Among the various resolutions the new board was asked to approve was one prohibiting corporate officers from wagering on the races. This is a silly and unnecessary restriction, unfairly suggesting impropriety, and it raised some eyebrows.

“Why would we prohibit officers wagering, since we’re in the wagering business?” asked Stuart Janney, a board member and the chairman of the Jockey Club.

I thought I heard some assenting murmurs, and it seemed for a moment that there might be some actual discussion and dissension amid the thud of rubber-stamp approvals. Then someone pointed out that board members are not technically corporate officers and could continue playing the races.

The room exhaled, and the resolution passed unanimously.

Kenneth Porteous More than 1 year ago
Anybody who constantly wagers at a 20% takeout is a degenerate gambler. I have the right to say that because i did it for 40 years. Now Crist will probably ban me for saying so. But you people only have yourselves to blame.
wolves More than 1 year ago
what a joke this new board is...."meet the new boss", etc......Pete T here is 90% of the problem>...lower handle, due to not cultivating new fans.....easy to cultivate new fans, but management is clueless.......lower handle, due to small fields...solution, less racing......lower handle due to massive takeout....6 horse field of maidens running for 65k, yet these brain-dead pin heads never considered diverting some of the slots windfall towards the player, the engine of the industry, in the form of lower takeout.
John Murphy More than 1 year ago
Start by closing Aqueduct to live racing and shutting down for the Winter. Have a world class simlcasting facility at Aqueduct, which will actually make a larger profit than Aqueduct's live racing. Horsemen will object, so raise the purses for the balance of the year. There's plenty for everyone. Now how do the projections look?
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
after constantly reading about how inept this new gov apointed take over of ny racing will be.you would think that the people who ran it before were doing a great job,or that drf's pro drugs and miracle trainers stance is what racing needs.heres my humble opinion racing should be federalized and every aspect of it regulated to the gills.crooks should be run out of the game and not given pseudo suspensions.officers and stewards and oversight board officers should not be allowed to bet and there should be a corruption task force created to investigate race fixing nationwide,a task force with police powers to subpeana and to arrest infractors.thats just one opinion im sure many will desagree.ofcourse if i had access to inside information and made out like a bandit with the miracle trainers and crooked ny jockeys i too would be on the side of the status quo.
Elaine Parkinson More than 1 year ago
Steve Crist... mad respect for attending these post NYRA meetings and for keeping us informed. You have always demonstrated a love for our game and have always been willing to ask the tough questions. Why is it that you are not asked to participate as you did before? I would like to think that you have even more experience to offer them and can't think of anyone who could possibly be in a better position to accumulate the data and information that are needed to base "new decisions" and "new directions" upon. The foundation of any successful organization is the ability to gather data about their customers/members and make decisions that result in more loyal customers. They need only study Las Vegas to get an education. A fact-finding mission or junket to LV should be appealing to all of those involved. I'll bet that THAT proposal would pass by a large majority if only brought up once. Remember... "Who is the customer?"
wolves More than 1 year ago
Mad respect?? Mad respect for knowing, but not reporting to the public that NYRA was fleecing their customers on pick 4 takeouts? Mad respect??
Advance Plumbing More than 1 year ago
Hope u get it fixed big brass, racing in NY is much better anywhere else, although somewhat chauly, but we r learning who the big boys r and u play thse guys u cash tickets. Other tracks got all these no name trainers all over, LA, FL. even KY now.
Roger DuFault More than 1 year ago
Fellas,you are in the GAMBLING business! It's all about gambling. Make the gamblers want to bet the NYRA product. Start there and end there. Any other approach will fail. Look at Gulfstream,many of your answers are staring you in the face. When you watch channel 71 in N.Y.,the feed is so dreary it makes you skip the whole thing. Great idea to be on TV,but run so poorly it says,"don't worry if the feed stinks,the bettors don't deserve any better than this." I would love for N.Y. racing to make a real come-back;however,I'm afraid the first big decision will be to raise the take out. That's what governments do.
Don Reed More than 1 year ago
"(Skorton called technology improvements a top priority, ironically, amid a board meeting that was ineptly presented on an unwatchable live webcast filled ["blue-lit"] with long dropouts and buffering delays.)" It gets better. The DRF link to "filled" (blue-lit) in this article (see above) was clicked. An electronic notice popped up on the screen, stating that it was a busted link.
Don Reed More than 1 year ago
I guess that's a double-irony.
M.E.B. Altieri More than 1 year ago
Thank you for writing honestly about the meeting, Mr. Crist. I've been waiting to read something by someone in racing media--something that didn't say what Cuomo and Dr. Skorton want to hear. Please keep it coming: your insights are valuable, and on-target.
Chris Butler More than 1 year ago
In an ideal world they should/would put money in to fix up Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga. We do not live in an ideal world. The races are put on for the owners, trainers, gamblers, etc., to generate handle and keep the wheel spinnig. The races today are for TV not for people to actually attend. Oh you'll get the big crowds and attention for the Triple Crown and Breeders Cup Weekends, but that's about it. Why go to the track if you can stay home and watch and bet, or if you are lucky enough to have a job, open a wagering account and bet. Believe me, deep down, the horsemen do not want any money going to "capital improvements", other than what goes in to the racing surfaces, because they realize what I stated above is true, and it would mean less money in the purses for them. Oh you'll get "crowds" at Saratoga and Del Mar because of what they are, but, the days of big crowds at the New York tracks and most other tracks are over, except for the weeekends I mentioned above.