08/10/2016 2:36PM

Del Giudice expects NYRA to be reprivatized early in 2017


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – All-sources handle on racing at the New York Racing Association tracks was up 5.6 percent through the first six months of 2016 when compared with 2015. The catastrophic injury rate is down over that same time period. And the first third of the Saratoga meet is doing well.

Still, the head of the NYRA Reorganization Board remains frustrated that the company remains a state-run entity, two years after it was scheduled to be reprivatized. Efforts to reprivatize NYRA stalled in June when a bill introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a cap on revenue from video lottery terminals to NYRA at $46 million. The initial legislation when the VLTs opened in 2011 gave 7 percent of VLT revenue to NYRA with no cap.

A bill introduced by the Assembly and Senate did not include a cap on VLT revenue, and it also differed from Cuomo’s proposed composition of a board of directors.

“It’s a little frustrating,” said Mike Del Giudice, a Cuomo board appointee and the NYRA board’s vice chairman, who basically has filled the role as chairman for more than a year. “I’ve been in politics since the ‘70s, I’ve seen things go up and down; there’s a time line. I’ve spoken to the governor, I’ve spoken to the legislative folks that are involved. Everyone’s on track to try to get it done this year, and I think we will.”

Del Giudice spoke following a NYRA Reorganization Board meeting at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs that focused on how NYRA’s new initiatives are helping the company grow its revenue.

Following the meeting, NYRA chief financial officer Gordon Lavalette reported that handle on NYRA’s races through the first six months of 2016 was $1.071 billion, an increase of $57.4 million, or 5.6 percent, over the same period in 2015. That despite a $36.4 million drop in handle on the Belmont Stakes due to the lack of a Triple Crown opportunity and four fewer racing days.

Chris Kay, NYRA’s chief executive and president, said that through the first 16 days of the Saratoga meet, all-sources handle was $264.3 million, up $3.9 million (1.5 percent) over 2015. Offtrack handle is down $2.7 million, or 4.25 percent, from last year.

Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior director of racing operations, talked about how the big-race-day concept has grown handle over the years. He pointed out that on Jim Dandy Day, all-sources handle was $29.9 million compared with $20.5 million in 2012. Whitney Day handle was grown by $4 million since 2012, although it was flat when compared with last year.

“I feel what we’re doing on Saturdays at Saratoga and Belmont is working,” Panza said.

Marc Holliday, head of NYRA’s Equine Safety Committee, said NYRA’s catastrophic rate of injury is 1.2 per 1,000 starts, down from 1.6 per 1,000 starts through the first six months of 2015. Holliday said there were nine racing-related fatalities from 7,368 starters.

“I think it’s an enormously impressive number,” Holliday said. “The goal is zero, though zero is an unattainable goal.”

In May, NYRA began broadcasting 2 1/2 hours of live racing from Belmont and Saratoga each day. The addition of regional and national cable companies has the capacity to bring NYRA’s races into 65 million homes. This coincides with the launch of NYRA BETS, an advance-deposit wagering platform that expanded from just New York to 22 states nationally on Saturday.

The economic impact of NYRA’s national ADW won’t be known for years, but it’s an example, according to Del Giudice, of the strides NYRA is making.

“I think over the last three or four years, it’s moved like a quarter of a century in terms of the benefits that have occurred as a result of the reorganization that has occurred,” Del Giudice said.