Updated on 12/09/2013 2:14AM

Steven Crist: NYRA admission increase should get the gate


Admission to Belmont Park and Saratoga has been $3 for the grandstand and $5 for the clubhouse since 2005, well below the cost to walk into major tracks in other states, including Arlington ($8/$8), Del Mar ($6/$10), and Santa Anita ($6/$8.50). Given those industry norms and nine years of flat pricing, it was not entirely unreasonable for the New York Racing Association to consider a modest increase in those charges for 2014.

A savvier group of overseers would have either considered the increases and put them on hold, or raised them by about a dollar to $4 and $6. Instead, the NYRA board on Wednesday voted to jump those prices from $3 to $5 for the grandstand and from $5 to $8 for the clubhouse next year, increases of 66 and 60 percent, respectively, that have already prompted a firestorm of outrage from customers and erased whatever goodwill NYRA had accrued under new management in recent months.

It was a tone-deaf decision on several fronts, even when you put aside the fundamental illogic of instituting price increases at a time of declining attendance and the ongoing loss of market share to casino-gambling facilities that have no entry fees.

The timing is premature. NYRA executives believe they are offering a more valuable product these days that somehow justifies a price increase. “We’re adding value,” said Chris Kay, NYRA’s chief executive, but could only cite the planned installation of 500 new televisions at Saratoga as proof of this hypothesis. Belatedly making overdue technology upgrades should not be a pass-along cost to customers. NYRA may well improve its facilities and its racing over the next year, with new racing officials in place and some capital funds to spend, but why not wait until some improvements have actually been made?

The price increases also have the appearance of gouging the small core of customers who still attend the races regularly while simultaneously shoveling more and more purse money at horsemen. Thanks to revenue from the Aqueduct racino, purses in New York have skyrocketed in the last three years, with the $46,000 maiden race of 2010 now worth $75,000. Purses were too low and the increases have lent a stability to the local game, but average field size has actually decreased and it is hard to find anyone outside the organization who believes that the quality of racing has improved.

No one is advocating a significant rollback in prize money, but increasing the admission prices against a backdrop of soaring purses forces one to wonder whether the $2 million NYRA hopes to receive from the admission increases could be better captured by decreasing purses by around $800 a race – roughly a 1 percent reduction for owners as opposed to a 60 percent hike for customers..

There was enough dissension over the price increases at the Wednesday meeting that the board decided to conduct market research and “test” them at Belmont before officially instituting them for Saratoga, an impractical compromise meant to mollify those with reservations. Attendance at Belmont is so low that a few weeks of attendance data in May and June is going to be meaningless. It also seems rather unlikely that market research will uncover many customers who are in favor of higher entry fees. All that this delay accomplishes is to keep the issue alive for months and make NYRA appear indecisive as well as insensitive.

What made the increases even more maddening was the revelation during the meeting that the primary reason NYRA would be facing a shortfall without them is an increased Federal income tax bill in 2014, one that most board members were unaware of and that none could adequately explain. Apparently the racino revenues being directed to the not-for-profit NYRA are considered taxable income, which could not possibly have been anyone’s intention. Before asking customers to pay for $2 million of a questionable new $12 million tax bill, NYRA should at least be hiring expert tax counsel and working with legislators and regulators to address that situation.

Some board members seemed shocked that NYRA would be taxed on statutory payments and taxed on gross inflow instead of net profit. If they were horseplayers, they would be quite familiar with such a situation, since that is exactly how the federal government treats racetrack bettors who have the temerity to make an occasional taxable score.

Perhaps the only hope that customers can take from NYRA’s federal income-tax situation is that perhaps it will motivate industry officials to address that situation. If the antiquated rules for withholding and taxation of gambling winnings were changed, it would put so much money back into circulation, and create so much additional racetrack handle, that the tracks could afford to pay customers $5 to walk through the gates and still come out ahead.

Loreta Pantera More than 1 year ago
Let start a BOYCOT for the first week at Saratoga - it will be the first week I will have missed in 35 years. Boycott these greedy crooked fools.
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
Comment was awaiting moderator, but In fairness to Crist, I personally doubt he was "for" this highway robbery pay wall tack by the DRF. I think it is the old magazine guys in the DRF executive washroom, like CEO John Hartig, that ran financial rags in the past and think pay walls will translate from that broad investment industry to a narrow gambling silo like horse racing. I have read what Hartig has to say about his plan, and he claims that online advertising is only 10% of revenue so I suppose he is willing to lose the web hits that advertisers want to see. I can't imagine this is going well, so there must be a more complicated business angle that #ijustdon'tget
David More than 1 year ago
If I lived near the NYRA tracks I would signal my objection to the price increases by not going to the races as often as I once did. Similarly, my objection the the fees charged by drf.com is being signaled by my increasing rare visits to the website. Nothing that any of you people on drf.com has to say is worth a substantial monthly fee, and I can get my past performances elsewhere as well.
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
NYRA will only care if you stop betting on their product from home.
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
SUBSTANTIAL? Guess our definition of "substantial" differs, David.
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
20 bucks a month is not substantial as you say. It's about value, and waste. Why pay a dime for something you can get free elsewhere. It's like lighting a match to a twenty dollar bill.
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
Right, then get it elsewhere. There's always someone willing to give there work away for free. They won't last long, but get it while you can.
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
Their work, not "there." God, it's hell to be an editor. :(
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
Mary, you don't understand a basic business reality in getting sales where it counts. People do pay for the articles every time they buy a racing form. We just don't always read them as time is devoted to handicapping. We do read at leisure on the site so why pay again. The money is not in paying for the articles, it's in the racing form and other sales. If you anger people, and keep charging more, and degrade the product, then charge more, then when it's not working keep finding new ways to charge people and your sales will drop significantly. And if a new customer comes to the site and sees they have to pay just to read an article, they're gone. It's not about giving away free work. They get paid to write for the racing form. The difference is now no one reads their work. Think about it. Then when revenue drops, the writer who you thought was giving away his work for free is out of a job. I do understand business and they have no idea how to get it.
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
The bottom line is, you apparently think that other turf writers working for a newspaper or company selling past performances work for free. No they don't.
David More than 1 year ago
Well, everyone, here is the response from DRF that we were looking for: Mary Simon, wife of DRF Editorial Director John Simon, replies and tells us that $20 a month of our money is not "substantial." I think that is called hubris. As an editor, Mary, please tell me if you agree: "'Hubris' often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One thing I noticed at Saratoga was a delivery boy passing out Free racing forms in large amounts at the offices in Saratoga These people are in bed with each other. Free if you work there 7.00 for the players who support the game.
Yorkshire Woe More than 1 year ago
racing is dead, just let it go already. too many thieves.
Mickey More than 1 year ago
Steve- not ONE comment from you regarding MANY people complaining about the DRF below???? (and they are 100% right)....how can you slap NYRA with a story here ( regardless of the truthfull comments)..when your in charge of the DRF..and they way it is being run lately is no better? That is like someone yelling at a person for smoking when they have a cigarette in their mouth...no?
Andrew More than 1 year ago
Steve doesn't care he will make fun of you for betting a caveman ticket but yet covers 37 horses in the early pick five on Saturday breeders cup and still misses it. Just because he assigns A's B's and C's to the horses it is somehow better than a caveman ticket that might only cover say 16 horses. The difference is big deal he might hit an $80 pick 4 10 times once in a while but once two of his C's come in he will never get the big one like a caveman ticket might of. His A's are mostly chalkfests. 37 horses in a pick 5 hahaha.
Rufus More than 1 year ago
Who can forget the NYRA know-nothing, Kay, commending Ramon Dominguez on his "matches"? After being away from a racetrack for 35 years, he remembered the bullfights he saw there, right? And, this is the idiot they put in charge, another Cuomo lackey, who like Cuomo, cares nothing about the sport of thoroughbred horseracing, or you, the bettor.
Charley Witt More than 1 year ago
No racetrack should charge for parking or admission.They should be lucky to have you there betting period. Off the beating track.......I have enjoyed the "old" Racing Form format forever you can have the new one. Change is good but not this change!
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
Interestingly (or maybe not so much) the race recaps are now locked behind pay wall, too, this weekend, and they were supposed to be the "free" stories along with "industry news" with only the "race previews" (aka 90% of the news on DRF) locked up. Must admit I am smiling as I read the comments here about the thoughtless and short sighted DRF price gouging. NYRA just getting in the race to the bottom. Winner takes all!
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
Oh holy sh^&t. The DRF DOUBLED down on DRF Plus when no one signed up??? Changed the DRF Bets rule to $1,000/mo. minimum (not $100 as it was) to get 30 days of free editorial? Changed "race recaps" from free to have to pay? Yikes. It almost seems like some insane experiment to destroy their customer base and be sure to shut out any fans, kids (future bettors), and to piss on any interest, major or minor, in the sport? Bizarre. Hope not for profit NYRA has job openings for the lay offs coming at DRF soon...
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
You are making too much sense Barbara. Logic is not allowed in any horse racing business. Nice pickup. Odd that results oriented articles are pay to read as well. Almost like DRF management is stamping their feet like children that this isn't working. The DRF price is now 20 bucks a month, so if no one signs up, raise the price even more. My argument was that their sales will drop because of these decisions and failure to act in other areas. And how do you get new customers if when they come to the site they can't even read an article. Not smart. Being stubborn with refusal to admit being wrong or ability to change a decision is not the way to success. When I got a form, I did not read articles, I used my time handicapping. I read the articles on line. Now I don't buy their products for many reasons, and can't read their articles leaving them out of the loop. I'm not the only one. We might come back with some changes, but the longer it goes, the higher probability we never come back. And good luck getting those new customers.
Loreta Pantera More than 1 year ago
You got alot of balls talking about NYRA when your DRF has been ripping off the general public for centuries. Just make the form ten dollars and be done with it. I must admitt though it is excellent for doing windows and starting fires in fireplaces. The crooked thieves both on and off of the racetrack continue to gouge the public. Hey let bobby Flay operate things at NYRA what he knows about racing you can put in a thimble and still have room left over. Like the DRF ever did anything for the general public - GAG ME - you make me sick.
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
What's the DRF or any newspaper supposed to "do" for the general public. It's a business, just like any other media outlet. It needs to make a profit, so get the hell over it.
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
Of course they need to make a profit. You miss the point and don't understand basic principles of business. People buy a racing form and then may enjoy reading the articles which they've already paid for. The money isn't in paying $7.50 a day to read the articles, it's in the sales of racing forms for past performances. Do you think people buy a newspaper everyday just to read Dear Abby, or do they buy the paper for other news and may enjoy reading Dear Abby. Do you think a Dear Abby newspaper alone would be successful? You just don't get it, and neither do the management of DRF. This will not be successful, overall revenue will drop. Period.