04/12/2013 1:51PM

Steven Crist: NYRA should look at adding to wagering menu, lowering takeout

Email

If you’ve been holding your breath waiting for anything about playing the horses in New York to change for the better, it’s time to exhale before you turn any bluer. The lesson from Thursday’s fourth meeting of the new New York Racing Association Reorganization Board was that things are moving even more slowly than anyone expected, and matters of genuine concern to actual customers seem to be falling further and further down the agenda.

No one thought that addressing major conceptual issues involving the future of New York racing was going to be a quick or easy task, but there seems to be a growing disconnect between that big picture and the ongoing operation of the racing game.

While the new state-appointed board slowly educates itself about the industry, neither the board nor its depleted and leaderless management team is considering the kinds of changes that customers actually care about, such as changes to the daily wagering menu, addressing archaic betting rules and regulations, or the long-term need to lower the rate of parimutuel takeout.

The situation is probably going to get worse before it gets better. NYRA, which has been without a chief executive for 11 months now, will lose its interim president at the end of this month, when Ellen McLain’s resignation becomes effective.

It became clear at Thursday’s board meeting that the board is not close to hiring a successor and will instead have to put together yet another interim leadership group. The search committee for the next CEO reported Thursday that it has interviewed more than 150 people as sources or candidates for the position, including many from outside racing, such as hospitality executives, but is only “rounding second base” in the process.

In the meantime, action items far less complex than the long-term philosophical issues being debated by the board’s committees remain unaddressed, and customers can be forgiven for feeling that they have no advocates in the process.

Players would, for example, welcome the addition of a low-minimum, low-takeout pick-five bet to the daily betting menu, a proposal made more than a year ago by former NYRA executives that has languished due to inattention rather than anyone’s objection to the idea. These kinds of bets have worked well at almost every track where they have been tried, generating new revenue and making customers feel that their concerns about affordability and takeout are being heard.

In the days before the state takeover, it was a grind to get something like a new bet approved in a different and dysfunctional political landscape. The once-powerful OTBs opposed any bet with a lower takeout, regulators stalled implementation with arcane concerns, and approvals were withheld month after month.

One of the benefits of the new political order was supposed to be that since the state was running NYRA, those roadblocks would disappear. Now, however, with no one at NYRA championing such changes and a board whose myriad committees don’t even include one on wagering, no one is even trying to make these changes.

That is a missed opportunity, as is the one to have, at long last, a fresh discussion about takeout and taxation rates and the best use of the windfall of slots money that has eased NYRA’s short-term financial woes. Without those pressures and political hurdles, now is the time for some bold experiments in pricing.

Maybe while the new NYRA is contemplating whether fancier dining and retail shopping are the path to success, as many board members seem to believe, it could also try a sharp reduction in the win-pool takeout, or see if some new bets and even lower minimums might stimulate the core business of selling parimutuel tickets.

Everyone would like to see the NYRA facilities cleaned up and made more inviting, but the new board must acknowledge that ontrack handle is a sliver of the business, and that there might be better uses for some of the slots money than putting it all into purses and facilities. In addition to being told they might be getting nicer restaurants in a few years, fans need to be educated and incentivized to handicap and bet today, and made to feel appreciated.

Something as simple as adding a new pick five doesn’t require the hiring of consultants, the intervention of the state, the formation of a committee, or public hearings – why not just do it?

Howard DeMartini 11 months ago
Interesting that this column was written in April and is still applicable today. The new Board is a joke. Track attendance isn't bad enough, so let's raise admission prices! What nonsense. How about tackling some real issues, like takeout reform, customer service and other things to improve the experience of the betting public. The Board chairman has no clue and their hand-picked CEO lacks basic horse racing knowledge. A lethal combination.
Anonymous 11 months ago
These people don't have a clue and will eventually be the death of the NYRA. What a farce. Doesn't anyone there know how to play the game? My God, what is wrong with those people in Albany?
Jim Fasino 11 months ago
Just so I understand, a publication that now charges us to read 80% of what's on their website, that we used to be able to read for free, is preaching that it is bad for the industry to force the horse player to incur additional costs. Talk about hypocrites
russell 11 months ago
Buthch & Bobbie hit the nail on the head. The casino $ which is raising the purses 30-50% has done nothing to add to the quality of racing at NYRA nor the average field size. Stop giving away $$$ and improve the facility. The simple reality is the people with the biggest barns; Pletcher, Assmussen,Chad Brown,C Clement, and Shug will never PERSONALLY stay a winter at Aqueduct. Regardless of the purses. Their best horses will always be at GP from mid Dec-March. How about NYRA add some lights and stage night racing at Aqueduct. The casino is so packed on Friday and Saturday night you cant move. Only NYRA would have 10,000 customers next door and not try to lure them to bet. The attendance at Sha Tin and Happy Valley is off the charts. The Chinese like to bet horses.
Jeffrey 11 months ago
Steve, thanks for championing sensible reforms that make the game more palatable to racing's primary customer: the horseplayer. Few people with a voice will stick their neck out and address the game's antiquated pricing model. Your last two posts were a pleasant surprise
Jeffrey 11 months ago
Oops, I just realized the time stamp on this post was from last spring! Nevertheless, the compliment still stands. On my other post, I made the same mistake by not seeing the date.
Colie More than 1 year ago
Gulfstream has opened a new can of worms...The 10 cent pick 6. I don't have a problem with that! The shaft is that you have to be the only winner to collect! When you share the prise if is only 40% of the pool.If you hit it ...you should get it ! This larcency has spread to other tracks...monkey see monkey do! I believe federal Authorty should intervene !
Jeffrey 11 months ago
The information you have is outdated, although the same concept remains. Gulfstream increased the minimum on the rainbow pick 6 to 20 cents. Also, they changed the payout structure with the lone winner receiving 30% (instead of 40%) of the pool. I assume the hope is to increase churn and make it more attractive to handicappers who dislike the 'lottery aspect' of the wager. I won't be playing this wager except on the final day of the meet (if there is a substantial carryover).
rahman Williams 11 months ago
Robbery not Larceny
Butch & Bobbie More than 1 year ago
Here! Here! NYRA just doesn't get it. I have given up playing NY races. It's been years now. Their takeout is horrendous. As one of the major-circuit tracks they can barely put together decent size fields--even with casino money. Doesn't that tell them something? Aside from the NY Bred races, that does get decent size fields, the rest of the card can hardly get anything more than 6 horses. I have switched to other tracks that understand what I want. And that's: bigger fields and lower takeout. When you bet the exotics in NY you get raked over the coals. Unbelievable! And they have casino handout. They are carding stakes races that are filled with claiming horses. That's what NY racing has come to. And lastly NYRA, spend some damn money on Saratoga before it falls apart.
Buzz Nottingham More than 1 year ago
While you are discussing changes in the wagering menu, maybe the abolishment of the Grand Slam would be in order. In my opinion, this is the most foolhardy wager of them all. Novice customers do not have a clue when asked to explain this wager. I will take this opportunity to argue once again for the abolishment of coupled entries in pari-mutuel horseracing. The NYRA rule regarding late scratch of a coupled horse would no longer be required.
Ferwerda Long More than 1 year ago
Um, Buzz, if you are asking novice customers to explain the Grand Slam wager, then it isn't only the novice customers whose possession of a clue is in question.
Thomas Koski More than 1 year ago
I have always wondered why the fans are not even considered when this "slot" money is spread out. The large purses for these horrible fields of slow horses currently racing at the Big A are ludicrous. I attend the final week of the Saratoga meet every year, and have since 1969. All of the seats in the grandstand cost $8.00. The sections farthest from the finish line sit empty all week. How about free seats in these sections, at least for the last week?. Dropping general admission charges at Saratoga would cost three million dollars. A drop in the "slot" bucket. I would like to see a grand experiment. How about "No Take Fridays" for the Saratoga meet? Zero take on all wagers. I think the results in handle and interest would be staggering, and likely would help the rest of the weekend, business wise. No one would argue that racing would not exist without the fans (bettors). Why do we constantly receive such shabby treatment?
Stefan More than 1 year ago
Steve, Wanted your opinion on my idea for a new wager... I call it the "ladder" bet. It's similar to the Grand Slam that NYRA has now, but instead of a three race show parlay connected to a win bet, the "ladder" is a parlay of a show bet, then a place bet, then a win bet (moving up the ladder.) This bet could be offered multiple times during a day and would not eat into the Pick 3 pools since, I believe, it would appeal to a different part of the betting public.
Randy Atkins 11 months ago
also Steve, how about going back to all stakes pic 3's and 4's involving multiple tracks like we used to do????????