By Paul Moran:
The hand-wringing anxiety and dark, knee-jerk doomsday forecasts that racing in New York would surely wither after the nation’s largest legal betting operation was left to die just before Christmas were apparently unfounded. Less than two months after the last OTB site was padlocked in Gotham, the prevailing impression is: Who cares?
Once, in its best days, which were never the best days for racing in New York, a billion dollars a year passed through NYCOTB, much of it wasted in what was never more than a bloated jobs program controlled by the political class, relatively little returned to the industry upon which it fed. Wretched excess, it appeared, was the business plan embraced by a succession of leaders appointed by a succession of mayors and one governor on whose watch it expired following an ill-advised state takeover. It operated within the larger racing industry like a tapeworm, gnawing hungrily for four decades.
It was, in the end, insolvent and left to die on the floor of a rancorous State Senate and there are few who continue to mourn less than two months after the funeral. The New York Racing Association and other racing entities owed tens of millions saw almost no scenario under which they would be paid, either by a penniless NYCOTB or the equally bankrupt state now liable for some $600 million of post-mortem debt. The nation’s largest pari-mutuel bet taker had paid no supplier of simulcast signals to its network of parlors, restaurants and teletheaters in a very long time. What difference would be made by the demise of a deadbeat?
What was quickly evident is that there is indeed life after NYCOTB.
The doomsayers underestimated the horseplayers of New York City, who like their brethren elsewhere will inevitably find their way to action.
So, predictions that NYRA would be forced to cut back racing dates and pare purses have been proven wrong. Business has gone on, perhaps not quite as usual but gone on nonetheless.
A flurry of unfamiliar cooperation by the State Racing and Wagering Board fast-tracked a measure that permitted NYRA to open wagering accounts online, facilitated the migration of a significant portion of NYCOTB’s 20,000 accounts. While many no doubt found their way to account wagering platforms elsewhere or offshore, the NYRA offered incentives to new members of its rewards program, which includes rebates not offered by the late NYCOTB, which in many store-front locations penalized winners with a surcharge. Regulators also approved the live streaming of video on the NYRA website, long a bone of contention between the association and the OTB corporations statewide, five of which remain in business.
Officials made the two city-owned television channels used by the suddenly defunct OTB available to NYRA, restoring the simulcast signal to bettors in the five boroughs after a brief interruption. NYRA reacted quickly, subsidizing bus service from several dark OTB facilities to Aqueduct and opening a portion of Belmont Park for simulcasting.
Immediately after the closure of NYCOTB, attendance and betting at Aqueduct showed sharp increases over 2010 despite a racing product that has been nothing short of grim even in the grip of a particularly severe winter. The Belmont facility has proven very popular and the money that once flowed through NYCOTB now is being bet directly with NYRA, which realizes an appreciably larger cut from wagers placed on track. The background music: Construction noise as the new casino facility at Aqueduct progresses toward a spring opening, which will be a difference maker in New York.
Just beyond the city’s eastern fringe, Nassau Downs OTB realized a serendipitous surge in business that coincided with the death of its neighbor. Business at an OTB facility in Valley Stream, hard by the city line, was up by 55 percent immediately and the upturn in receipts is sharp throughout facilities throughout western Nassau.
The State Senate’s failure to save NYCOTB will have a positive outcome for racing in the long term. It finally killed a voracious parasite that for four decades sucked the life from the sport in New York. The city’s horseplayers, ever resilient, have found their way to the action while barely missing a beat. NYCOTB, is repose, is not missed. Its epitaph: Better dead.
Originally Posted on ESPN