Updated on 09/17/2011 11:33AM

Offer N.Y. tracks can't refuse


TUCSON, Ariz. - For racing, last weekend was about Funny Cide, fratricide, and time to decide.

Funny Cide was high drama for Thoroughbred racing. It was retribution for jockey Jose Santos and his lovely family, jubilation for the Sackatoga swingers, celebration for New York breeding, confirmation for the chestnut gelding, and dedication for Pimlico, which got a nationally televised promise from Frank Stronach to rebuild that worn-out plant. NBC, which had no clue as to what to say at the end of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, knew exactly what to say in Baltimore after the Preakness, said it very well, and got exceptional cooperation from the star of the show.

While that happy morality play was going on in Baltimore, dark Shakespearian tragedy was playing out in Albany, N.Y., where the conspirators of the legislature turned on Caesar with sharpened daggers. One could almost hear the gasp of "Et tu, Bruno" from Gov. George Pataki when his fraternity brothers from the Senate and Assembly, including both Assembly boss Sheldon Silver and staunch supporter and Senate president Joe Bruno, overrode the governor's vetoes of tax legislation with portentous speed and boldness.

Those startling events may not have given New York's racetracks all they wanted on the issue of slots, but may have given them all they are going to get. They also force the tracks to decide - despite the still undetermined issue of constitutionality - if they are going to go ahead and build their racinos.

As of the moment, because of the override, tracks by law will get:

* Ten years instead of five before sunset legislation, giving them a fighting chance to get the money they need to build.

* Sixteen consecutive hours of slot operation, with a 2 a.m.cutoff.

* Flexible takeout rates.

* No restrictions on nighttime simulcasting of Thoroughbred signals.

* An extension of the NYRA franchise from 2007 to 2013 if it introduces VLTs at Aqueduct by next March.

* A split of VLT revenues that provides tracks with 20.24 percent of slots revenues in the first three years and gives horsemen 7.5 percent for purses. In years four and five, tracks would get 20 percent and horsemen 7.7 percent. In years six through 10, tracks would keep 17.5 percent and purses would get 10 percent. The horsemen can voluntarily give tracks any or all of their share to help tracks make the physical improvements necessary for slots.

* No VLT's at OTB's, for the moment, but unlimited full-card simulcasting for them, available immediately.

The state's share of 61 percent of VLT revenue for education is the highest of any racino state in the nation. The tracks' share is the lowest of any racino state.

What will the tracks and horsemen decide? If they listen to gaming expert Bill Eadington of the University of Nevada, Reno, they will take what they get and move forward.

Eadington is casino-oriented, and it is difficult for racetrack people to listen to his dim assessment of racing as a sport. He ignores it as an agricultural-based industry, but he is totally on target in his views on the growing tendency of legislatures to shunt racing aside and take the spoils of slots for themselves. At the racing symposium in Tucson, Ariz., last December, Eadington warned racing leaders that they need to understand that "whatever legislation you are trying to support, you need to assure that government has a substantial position of the gross gaming revenues, a substantial portion of the economic rents. If that is not the case, then the other fundamentals are going to work against the likelihood of success."

What is happening in Maryland is exactly what Eadington predicted at the symposium. Maryland's Speaker of the House, Michael Busch, who almost single-handedly defeated slots legislation in that state this year, now is talking about slots for next year, but patterned after the Ontario model of government as owner, operator, and primary beneficiary.

There is no question that racing needs a share of slots revenues large enough for it to live with, but 40 states now have serious budgetary problems and self-preservation still is the strongest of human emotions. Eadington warned that states, in their financial desperation, are going to be more attentive to the value of what they are giving away in legislation and negotiation, and that political pressures are going to make it difficult to sustain slot subsidies long term.

Breeders, horsemen, and track operators had better think seriously about Eadington's message in their efforts in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, Massachusetts, Florida, and wherever else slots at tracks might be considered.

Racing people in New York are going to have to think about his message right now.