12/10/2010 5:13PM

NYRA to open Aqueduct for simulcasting on dark days

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The New York Racing Association will open Aqueduct racetrack for simulcasting on its dark days beginning on Monday as it awaits word from state regulators on whether the association can broadcast its races on its account-wagering platform and on New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation’s defunct cable channel.

The decision to open for simulcasting on Mondays and Tuesdays is one of a handful of measures that NYRA has taken since New York City OTB shut its doors on Wednesday, sending racing interests in the state scrambling to offer services to the company’s former customers. NYRA also plans to open a part of its facility at Belmont Park for simulcasting as of Sunday, and on Friday it announced that it would add additional bus routes on its live racing days from former OTB locations in Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx to Aqueduct, beginning Dec. 15.

On Thursday, NYRA had petitioned the New York State Racing and Wagering Board to allow the live streaming of its races on its account-wagering platform, but the board had not determined by late Friday whether it had the legal authority to grant the request. Current regulations prohibit the streaming of the races without the consent of off-track betting companies, and it was unclear if any change to the current rule could be approved by the board without the legislature also acting, according to Joe Mahoney, a spokesperson for the board.

NYRA had also asked the board for approval to broadcast its races on a local New York cable station that had been used by New York City OTB for in-home simulcasting. The board was also considering that request on Friday, Mahoney said, but the board had not ruled on it by Friday afternoon.

“We don’t have anything to say right now,” Mahoney said.

NYRA also continued to attempt to steer players to its own account-wagering service on Friday, and the association said that another 74 members had signed up on Thursday. In total, NYRA has added 300 new accounts in the past 2 1/2 weeks, NYRA officials said.

Because NYRA retains a much higher percentage of the revenue from a bet at its tracks than it had at one of New York City OTB’s locations or through OTB’s Internet site, the association can reach break-even if it is successful in steering 35 percent of OTB’s former handle on NYRA races to its own operations, according to Charles Hayward, the president of the association.

The shutdown of New York City OTB has thrown the state’s racing industry into turmoil by placing in jeopardy a significant revenue source for racetracks, horsemen, and breeders. NYRA officials have estimated that the shutdown could cost NYRA and its horsemen more than $32 million over the next year, with $18.6 million of that total in purses.

Though New York racing interests received most of the revenue from wagering by New York City OTB customers, the company was also one of the largest sources of handle for out-of-state simulcast signals, expanding the impact of the closing beyond New York to the racing industry at large. The impact, however, is mitigated somewhat by the fact that New York City OTB paid the smallest simulcast fee of any offtrack betting outlet in the country because of the sheer size of its volume.

For example, Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Ariz., was one of the first tracks to try to capitalize on New York City OTB’s volume when the track shifted its live racing schedule almost a decade ago to include live racing on Monday and Tuesday, days which, at the time, were traditionally dark days on the national racing calendar. Though many tracks have followed suit with the shift to exploit the same advantage, New York City OTB remained a large handle source for Turf Paradise, a revenue source that has now dried up.

Vince Francia, the general manager of Turf Paradise, said on Friday that New York City OTB bettors had wagered $3.7 million on Turf’s signal since the track opened on Oct. 1, or about $77,000 a day. Because of New York City OTB’s bargaining power, Turf Paradise only kept 2 percent of that money as the simulcast fee, Francia said, for total revenue of $1,540 a day, an amount that was split with horsemen.

“It’s not much, no,” Francia said. “But in this day and age, and in this economic climate, every dollar counts. Is it significant enough to close us down? No. But it’s money.”

– additional reporting by David Grening