Mixed Bag for NYRA at Fan Advisory Meeting

Event conflicted with other events, including the first race at Belmont, Oct. 19.

Pari-mutuel takeout rates and other issues were discussed during a lightly attended meeting of the New York State Racing Fan Advisory Council Oct. 19 at Belmont Park.

Saturday's meeting was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. EDT, the time the gates open at Belmont. But with few people in attendance, the forum was delayed until nearly 11:30 a.m., which put it up against a jockey autograph signing scheduled by the New York Racing Association.

NYRA's only role in the fan council forum was to offer space for it at Belmont, though the organization's handling of racing was criticized at times during the event. No NYRA officials sat on the panel and few were present; approximately two dozen fans were in attendance.

Created in 2011 by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, which was dissolved earlier this year and whose responsibilities were turned over to the New York Gaming Commission, the fan advisory council is charged with collecting ideas and concerns from the racing public and issuing formal recommendations to improve horse racing.

The council has five members, two of which were in attendance when the meeting began: council vice chair Michael Amo, who is the chair and co-founder of Thorofan, and Michael Mills, the village administrator for the village of Elmsford in Westchester County. A third council member, Allan Carter, historian at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, arrived midway through the program.

Guest panelists were Mike Beer and Dan Illman, handicappers at Daily Racing Form. At the top of the council's 2012 list of recommendations was lowering takeout, and it was the first point Beer raised.

"My focus is on betting, pure and simple," Beer said. "Anything that needs to be improved comes down to that. I think the bettors could certainly be treated a lot better than they are.

"The takeout discussion comes up all the time. The bettors are the only ones who seem to really care about it. The people who are in charge of the game don't care about it because they think that we don't care about it."

Beer, however, did credit NYRA for its treatment of bettors. He said those who wager on racing at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont, and Saratoga Race Course are "spoiled" by the amount of information NYRA provides to bettors. He cited on-track handicappers, the simulcast show, and the NYRA website.

The majority of the forum was devoted to comments from the fans, most of whom were local men who had been coming to the races for decades. They offered suggestions and criticism on a wide variety of topics, including the inconsistency of the rules regarding late scratches; the lack of people coming to the races; and the use of outdated technology.

While those in attendance expressed their commitment to racing–"I love this place more than I love my own house," one attendee said–a strong thread of resentment also emerged. One participant said bluntly: "People don't trust NYRA to come and give an opinion. NYRA does nothing for fans at Belmont and Aqueduct."

The man also criticized NYRA president and chief executive officer Chris Kay for appearing before the forum began to greet the state representatives, and then leaving before he could hear fans' comments. Among other concerns fans raised were the lack of comfortable, well-kept areas at the tracks and continued difficulties in the high-definition transmission of NYRA races.

The forum was scheduled to run until 12:30 p.m., which made it conflict with an earlier first post time of 12:20 p.m. to accommodate the 11-race Empire Showcase Day card. One participant made his priorities clear when, after offering suggestions to get people to the racetrack such as a 5% on-track bonus for wagers and free drinks for women aged 21-30, cut off his comments abruptly.

"I have to go bet the Pick 5," he said.