12/27/2004 1:00AM

NYC OTB faces cuts and layoffs

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New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. may have to close several branches and lay off employees to stem a growing sea of red ink, according to officials and published reports.

NYC OTB will close one branch on Court Street in Brooklyn on Friday and is seriously considering closing one on Water Street in Staten Island by March, and perhaps a third branch in Manhattan, said Ira Block, NYC OTB's executive vice president for legal affairs/general counsel.

"There could be others," Block said.

Block said that legislative changes enacted in 2003 have cost the corporation millions of dollars. That includes a 0.39 percent charge on handle that goes to the State Racing and Wagering Board as a regulatory fee. Last year, that figure totaled about $4.5 million. Block indicated that other changes, such as compensatory payments to the harness industry for OTB's right to import nighttime Thoroughbred signals, have also cost the corporation money.

"People are betting on what they want," Block said. "It's bizarre, giving the people what they want and we have to prop up the harness tracks. That's something that needs to be addressed."

According to a Dec. 23 story in the New York Daily News, OTB returned a profit of $123 million in 2003, but ended up $9.5 million in debt due to payments made to the city, state, and the New York Racing Association. Block said those figures were "pretty accurate."

"The distribution system, however it started out, hasn't evolved in a way that lets us make any money for the city," Block said. "It's got to be fixed; it's got to be addressed."

The Daily News also details a memo supposedly written by OTB executive vice president John Van Lindt that suggests, as one possible solution, closing half of the city's 65 parlors and nine of the 10 restaurants that allow betting on horse racing. Under the proposal, 325 workers would be laid off, according to the News. NYC OTB also operates three teletheaters. Block would not confirm that such a memo exists.

Block said that OTB introduced legislation last year which, among other things, seeks an increase in takeout, something that NYRA has strongly opposed. Block said OTB would also like to be allowed to show more racing in homes on its cable-TV channel.