Negotiations are underway to resolve the bitter simulcasting dispute between the New York Racing Association and a consortium of Northeast racetracks, as both sides seek to insist the other is being more financially hurt by the controversy.
NYRA officials say that while its revenue is off $800,000 million since the MidAtlantic Cooperative pulled Belmont's signal in mid-September, the 19 racetracks in the consortium have lost $3.2 million. MidAtlantic officials dispute that, and a top racing industry analyst says there is really no clear way of knowing how much the tracks have lost.
The consortium, which represents harness and Thoroughbred tracks in eight states from Virginia to Massachusetts, yanked NYRA's signal after the New York racing corporation entered into an exclusive simulcasting contract with TV Games Network. Among the components of the contract -- which NYRA has refused to make public -- is a restriction of account wagering in Virginia and New Hampshire, as well as a ban in Pennsylvania tracks from taking NYRA's live television signal.
Neither side was willing to predict an end to the stalemate, though they made clear it could go for the long haul. "We continue to talk. The differences don't seem insurmountable, but having said that we're still at an impasse,'' said Steve Duncker, co-chief operating officer at NYRA. He said the issue isn't stuck on a dispute over prices but "on some smaller issues as to the rights of NYRA's video signal'' that are different in each of the Northeast states because of different state laws and different track simulcasting arrangements. He declined to elaborate.
"Certainly, it's hurting everyone and this isn't a contest to say which side is losing more money,'' he said.
NYRA senior vice president Bill Nader said the MIdAtlantic tracks lose about $4.50 for every $1 NYRA has lost because of distribution formulas. He said NYRA's handle is off about 14 percent since the dispute began, but that the revenue losses are much worse for the tracks boycotting NYRA's signal. "There are no net winners in the deal. We lose. They lose and most importantly the customers lose,'' Nader said.
Martin Lieberman, executive director of the MidAtlantic Cooperative, said various ideas have been sent back and forth between the sides. "The fact that there are conversations and communications, I believe, is positive. But I don't know where that is going at this time,'' he said.
As for impact, Lieberman said that would take a canvassing of all the tracks in the consortium. But, he said, the financial impact has been "quite minimal'' on his members. He said, however, that bettors have come to expect to bet on NYRA's races. "The concern, as always, is the impact on fans,'' he said.
Bennett Liebman, who runs a racing and wagering think tank at Albany Law School, said NYRA's claims of the losses by MidAtlantic "have to be regarded as speculative'' because it's unclear whether the fans have stopped betting or just moved on to betting on other racetracks.
Liebman said NYRA has clearly aligned its future in account wagering with TVG. "A lot of tracks don't want to be subservient to TVG. They want to be able to establish their own account wagering systems,'' he said.
And he said the dispute could have one "ironic'' impact: a cut in NYRA's purses because of the declining handle at NYRA. The TVG deal carried with it an arrangement to have TVG replenish the millions of dollars that NYRA took from a horsemen's purse account to help it meet expenses. "You have a TVG contract signed in large measure to restore funds to the horsemen's account that may now end up, at least for the short term, lowering purses at NYRA,'' Liebman said.