06/21/2013 2:35PM

Steven Crist: Kay should focus on mending fences between NYRA, state government


Now that the New York Racing Association Reorganization Board has finally named a new chief executive after going 14 months without one, should fans expect any quick and dramatic changes to the sport or the operation of the Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga?

Probably not.

Christopher Kay, the 60-year-old attorney and former corporate and land-conservation executive who was named to the post last Tuesday begins work July 1. Saratoga Race Course opens 18 days later for a 150th anniversary meeting that will probably look and unfold exactly the same way as if NYRA had waited another few months to hire someone. While Kay’s experience at Toys “R” Us and Universal Parks and Resorts might suggest he will skew in a customer-friendly fashion, his professional experience has been largely on the corporate, legal, and privatization arenas,, not in product development, much less actual racing and wagering.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Any expectation that Kay is going to transform or reinvent New York racing 22 months before it is scheduled to be re-privatized is unrealistic and would probably be a waste of his time and talents.

Racetracks and racing organizations periodically go with the “fresh eye” approach to appointing leaders, bringing in someone from another arena whose lack of exposure to racing is supposed to be an asset. It usually ends poorly. The learning curve is steep for this unique industry, and the widely held notion that all sorts of simple, common-sense solutions have never been tried before because track executives are a bunch of dimwits turns out not to be true. For example, every fresh eye comes in saying that racing must be marketed to a broader and younger audience, as if this is a revolutionary idea that has never occurred to anyone else.

New York racing’s problems have little to do with track operations or who works at NYRA, but with its relationship to state government, which for decades has held the sport hostage to politics. Track operators have generally favored and advocated the same things that every fan would like to see – better racing, better facilities, lower pricing via takeout reductions, superior wagering, and video technology.

The problem is execution, not ideology: The simplest changes are opposed at every turn by warring political forces, unnecessary layers of bureaucracy, and constant charges of conspiracy and scandal even where none exist. For decades the sport was deprived of money that could have been spent to ensure its prosperity by an offtrack betting system that bled the sport to create its own jobs program. By putting the producers of the racing product in direct conflict with the offtrack retailers, the state practically ensured a legacy of destructive conflict.

The power of the OTBs has waned to some extent with the disappearance of the once-powerful New York City operation, but now the state’s casino and racino operations have become the poster boys for a dysfunctional relationship with racing. While racino revenues have been a welcome boost to race purses, there is little good will or partnership between the sport and the Genting racino that opened at Aqueduct two years ago. Any notion that this might be a mechanism for increasing interest in or exposure to the track has disappeared into a contentious relationship where the two entities do nothing to help each other. Genting has removed any signs indicating that there is a racetrack on the premises and won’t even show the track simulcast feed at its casino bars.

Even now, NYRA can not even make simple business decisions in the public interest without bizarre delays caused by governmental interference. It has been trying to execute a contract for a new betting platform for almost a year now, but has been sent back to square one by a Franchise Oversight Board that found a technical violation in procurement procedures that had no effect on the bidding or the awarding of the contract to a lone qualified vendor. Why in the world does NYRA, now run by the state, also need a Franchise Oversight Board second-guessing its every move?

Kay’s opportunity, and what he brings to the table, lies in navigating this treacherous, jumbled public-private gauntlet and squaring it away for the future, not coming up with some new ad campaign or restaurant plan. The window in the next two years is to set up a new relationship with the state that will make racing and government a partnership instead of an arena for constant sniping and maneuvering. If Kay can create such a partnership, then turn NYRA back to racing people whose sole agenda is the survival and prosperity of the sport and its historic tracks, he will have turned out to be the perfect choice for the job.

peter k More than 1 year ago
Nice to read you put a path for potential success for various parties . As a former Long Island racing fan who visited Aqueduct and Belmont regularly on weekends ,did not know the acrimonious genting and NYRA relationship . It speaks clearly to a casino only environment as is the want of the control freaks in both NY and Washington . As for the supposed oversight board they had no clue regarding the overtakeout evet , so why are they there . Simply put , the state takeover of nyra racing is a duplicitous effort to ruin thorough bred racing in ny . After all most of these hacks do not know a horse from a goat
horsesone More than 1 year ago
steve, will you be playing the carry over Wednesday at Belmont?
michael More than 1 year ago
Address the cheating trainers. And there are plenty, start with 30 percent winners and the ones whose horses burst with second energy wings down the when seemingly looked like losers at the sixternth pole. And include female trainers
[removed] More than 1 year ago
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gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
both good points
New York Racing Fan More than 1 year ago
Your Palm Sunday pet peeve will have to wait another year. S3821-2013 dies in the Senate Finance Committee and will have to wait until the next session.
WelbourneStud More than 1 year ago
You may want to confirm that Kay worked for the law firm that represents Genting. You may also want to check whether he was at the helm when Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy; and he left with a nice golden parachute. He is a personable and skilled businessman, but it makes me uncomfortable that he has no clue about horse racing and is getting a crash course in the sport this week while in Lexington.
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
As long as he leaves the stealing to the politicians they'll get along great!
John Murphy More than 1 year ago
Yes, the NYRA executives are downright geniuses. How else would one explain two tracks within 10 miles, each costing millions to maintain. Close Aqueduct and stop racing in the winter. Stay open for simulcasting from Gulfstream and other warm weather locations. The horses and everyone else could use the break. Where would Maryland racing be today if they had partnered with Delaware and closed in the summer, instead of knocking heads with Delaware (and their slots) and building Colonial in the middle of nowhere?
Tom Mallios More than 1 year ago
and what about the local horsemen that depend on the winter racing.their stock may not be good enough to compete in the summer.so do we just toss them to the side.do we strengthen the game for the all ready rich summertime owners.racing is just not for our enjoyment.some and many depend on it as their livelihood
Riddle This More than 1 year ago
Mr Crist, Mr Kay and NYRA (as well as all the other race tracks in the state) have the perfect vehicle right in front of them to work hand in hand with "the state" as you put it...it's called the NYS Racing Fan Advisory Council. Are you even aware of the RFAC and their work over the past year or so? Did you review their 2012 report? The RFAC was setup to be a vehicle of colaberation between the fans, racing operators, and the Gaming Commission to the improvement of the sport in NYS. And get this, the RFAC are all volunteers.
McKay Smith More than 1 year ago
Ya, we read that garbage. It was ridiculous.
Riddle This More than 1 year ago
Career2, Breeders Cup Tournament Edition, and HorseTourneys have all saved the game.....NOT........JOKE.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kay will need a good relationship with NY pols as privatization wont happen; NY racing will continue to need to be subsidized. Cuomo capped purse contributions at 2012 from racino and is looking for more slots and table games via NY constitutional amendment. If they get the amendment passed then NY can build and open full casinos and I think the bullseye will lessen for NY racing as the subsidies will be a much lower percentage of the state's overall gambling take. .