05/24/2007 11:00PM

N.Y. racing board opens up on web


NEW YORK - There have been hundreds of meetings of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board since it was formed in 1973, but the monthly session held last Thursday was the first that any citizen could watch from home in his pajamas. Gov. Eliot Spitzer has ordered that most state regulatory agencies broadcast their meetings on the Internet beginning July 1, and the board actually got up and running early, with a webcast of Thursday's 63-minute meeting.

This first edition of "Live from Schenectady - it's Thursday morning!" at least proved two positive things: Spitzer can occasionally deliver on his promise to make state government more transparent, and something in the world of New York racing can happen ahead of schedule instead of two years (franchise resolution) or five years (slots at Aqueduct) late. Otherwise, however, Thursday's board meeting was a somewhat depressing and disappointing one, for both what did and what didn't happen.

Much of what the board does falls into the category of particularly minute minutiae, as this entry from the minutes of the March meeting illustrates:

"On March 8, 2007, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board approved an application by the Capital District Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation to distribute, by way of a non-winning ticket drawing, five (5) Capital OTB E-Z Bet long sleeve shirts and two (2) NCAA basketball jerseys."

Residents of the Empire State will undoubtedly sleep easier knowing that giving away seven shirts passed the stringent oversight of a government agency.

At Thursday's meeting, Capital didn't fare quite so well in another application, to extend approval of its bettor-rewards program past May 30. Citing five areas of concern with Capital's administration and oversight of this fairly standard rebate program, including allegations that multiple bettors were accumulating rewards through the same highly trafficked accounts, the board scrapped the program effective May 30 unless Capital could resolve all these issues in the next six days.

There seems to have been some sort of misunderstanding between the board and Capital, whose officials said Thursday they were blindsided by the decision and unaware of the board's concerns. In any case, cutting off the program appears to penalize the wrong party. If there has been any wrongdoing on Capital's part, which it denies, why take rebates out of the mouths of hungry upstate horseplayers? Send in auditors and freeze the handful of accounts with suspicious activity, but don't punish the honest customers.

Minor benefits to the public may accrue from two other matters: a rewording of the accidental-whip rule that makes it clear a disqualification is not mandatory in such cases, and approval of a request from the New York Racing Association to upgrade the erratic cell-phone reception at the tracks. Yet missing from the agenda were any of the chief day-to-day concerns of the rank-and-file customers. There are three that have demanded attention for years, and it is unclear whether the board or NYRA is at fault for not getting them on the agenda:

* The rules need to be changed regarding the minimum number of starters in order for various multiple and exotic bets to be accepted. It seems that almost every day in New York, trifectas and superfectas are canceled after late scratches because of misguided guidelines adopted more than 20 years ago in the wake of race-fixing hearings.

* Multirace wagering rules regarding late scratches are an inconsistent and illogical patchwork. If there's a gate scratch in the sixth race at Belmont, there's a refund in the pick three just starting, a consolation for those in progress, and a switch to the post-time favorite in the pick four and pick six, even if the scratch is part of an entry that then wins the race as a purse-money-only runner.

* The NYRA pioneered dollar betting, but has stubbornly refused to institute lower fractional-betting minimums such as dime superfectas, which are now offered at every other major venue in the country. It is a debatable policy regarding its own racing, but unjustifiably unfair to its customers who are not allowed to bet them in simulcast pools on races from tracks that do. It's not just dime supers: New Yorkers who wanted to play Pimlico's $1 pick six on the Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness cards last weekend were forced to make the bet at a $2 minimum.

Everyone operating and overseeing New York racing is understandably distracted by the politics and uncertainty surrounding the franchise renewal process, but there's still racing going on and billions being wagered on it. Perhaps in addition to approving shirt giveaways, the board could turn its attention to these basic wagering issues at next month's webcast from Schenectady.