A state-created fan advisory group has blasted the New York Racing Association for operations June 7 for Belmont Stakes (gr. I) day, saying problems that hit everything from parking lots to betting lines to lack of security hurt the industry's stated goal of trying to reach new fans.
"What was a rare opportunity to bring new fans to the sport was instead marred by embarrassing missteps that all but ensured those potential fans would not become a part of New York's storied horse racing legacy,'' wrote the New York State Racing Fan Advisory Council in a letter dated July 2 and sent to the head of NYRA.
The letter was released by the New York State Gaming Commission, which regulates NYRA. The association is now run by a state-dominated board of directors as part of a temporary reorganization.
A NYRA spokesman did not return an email seeking comment.
The advisory council said it appreciated NYRA's effort to expand the day's race card and full fields, as well as additional entertainment meant to attract new fans to Belmont Park. But it said NYRA botched the handling of the day in a series of ways the council has been warning about since 2012. The group said its recommendations have either been "discounted or ignored" by NYRA.
The problems witnessed by members of the council either first-hand or through accounts of patrons "raise serious questions regarding NYRA's pre-event planning and overall strategy for conducting the event," the council's letter states. The five-member advisory group said the many troubles occurred on a day when NYRA already raised the grandstand admission price by 500% and a cup of beer cost $10.
It said the bad experiences began in the parking lots, where patrons who in some cases paid as much as $100 in advance to reserve a space were turned away when the lots filled early on a day that attracted more than 100,000 people. Buses packed with patrons were also turned away and had to park far from the track; a bus driver of a charter from the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., reported having to pay a first-ever fee of $150 for parking.
The council said security was often "absent'' during the day, leading to problems of patrons holding seat tickets having to "fend for themselves'' with "squatters'' who were often "intoxicated or uncooperative.'' The advisory group blasted NYRA for not having enough restrooms and inadequate food and drink supplies, forcing long lines of people with no recourse if they wanted to stay hydrated and fed on a day when coolers were banned by NYRA. It said the track's public address system also malfunctioned during the day.
The council said NYRA also likely lost "significant revenue'' because of "virtually non-existent" WiFi and cellular service that kept many from accessing NYRA's telephone or online wagering platforms.
After attendees encountered all those issues, the council said it didn't get any better for patrons leaving the track after the final race. It said delays can be expected with such large crowds, but that problems were made worse by what the group called "poor crowd and traffic control, uninformed staff, and misinformation.''
"The council has repeatedly stressed the importance of Belmont Stakes day to New York racing,'' the group wrote to Christopher Kay, president of NYRA. It called on NYRA to take "significant steps to ensure that fans attending its future marquee race days enjoy their experience.''
The council asked the state's Franchise Oversight Board, which monitors NYRA's finances, to look into the matter. It also asked NYRA leaders to address a public fan forum in Saratoga Springs in August about the day's problems and to "commit that great attention will be given to customer service for racing fans."
NYRA thus far hasn't publicly addressed all the issues brought up by the fan advisory council and individual attendees.