Aqueduct Dominates NYRA Board Discussion
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Aqueduct Racetrack

It’s not often that Aqueduct Racetrack overshadows its classier siblings, but discussions at the meeting of the New York Racing Association Reorganization board of directors March 5 suggested that the future of Thoroughbred racing in the state may well turn on the fate of the track in Ozone Park.

While Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course were topics at the meeting, conversations about nearly every major issue facing NYRA will be affected by what happens to Aqueduct. The track hosts NYRA racing from November to April each year and is, as noted by board member Barry Ostrager, a “historically profitable” operation.

A year from next month, the board is charged by statute with presenting to the state of New York a plan for re-privatizing the three tracks under its control. Included in that plan will be a recommendation for whether to keep Aqueduct open.

“I would think that our charter will be to provide recommendations for what should happen,” said NYRA president and CEO Chris Kay. “It’s going to be decided in Albany.” 

“I think we have to comment on everything having to do with Thoroughbred racing in the state related to these three tracks,” added board chair David Skorton. 

Instrumental in formulating that plan is the work of the board’s longterm planning committee, headed by board members Michael Dubb and Bobby Flay.

Dubb outlined five areas on which his committee is focusing:

A business plan that would require budget information for a number of years in the future, along with a capital plan that would allow for NYRA facilities to become “destination locations”;

The structure of NYRA’s corporate leadership after re-privatization, which will include determining whether the organization will continue to be a non-profit;

The structure of NYRA’s board of directors;

Regulatory review, including possible recommendations for new legislation to ensure the organization’s success;

And developing NYRA’s current facilities and determining how they can best be used.

Dubb also noted that NYRA is still lacking an off-track revenue platform in New York City, absent since the closing of New York City Off-Track Betting in 2010. 

“One of the many ways we can fuel our growth and expansion," he said. "[is] if we can come up with a suitable restaurant/bar strategy to work in the five boroughs.”

Dubb also emphasized protecting the VLT revenue from Resorts World Casino New York City, which he described as “necessary” to accomplish NYRA’s longterm goals.

Earlier in the meeting, concerns were raised by board members over what they see as unsatisfactory customer service conditions at Aqueduct and led to a discussion of possible improvements. Skorton noted that NYRA’s revenues continued to fall short of expenses.

“If the trend, not counting VLT, is continuing to be challenging,” he cautioned, “then one could project that more and more of those funds that might be available for capital improvements might go away.”

On more than one occasion, Skorton has emphasized the need for NYRA to function financially without the support of the VLT subsidy. 

According to chief financial officer Suzanne Stover, NYRA’s operating losses from racing operations for 2013 were $12.3 million.

A proposed admission increase for Belmont and Saratoga was given final approval following a market search conducted by Integrated Insight, Kay said.

Formerly, grandstand admission to Belmont was $3 and clubhouse admission was $5.  Now, the grandstand except for the apron will be closed, and all customers will pay a $5 admission fee.  At Saratoga, general admission will rise to $5 from $3, and clubhouse admissions to $8 from $5. 

Kay said that decisions about pricing for the Belmont Stakes will be announced within a few weeks. 

Other agenda items included a report from the board’s racing committee, which would like to see all three stewards be hired by NYRA; currently, one steward represents NYRA, one the New York State Gaming Commission, and one The Jockey Club. The racing committee is also seeking greater latitude in imposing penalties for infractions beyond what those imposed by the Gaming Commission. 

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