NYRA Gets OK to Offer New York Harness Races

State regulators approved the expanded simulcast offerings Aug. 5.

The New York State Racing and Wagering Board on Aug. 5 approved a plan for the New York Racing Association to offer full-card simulcasts of harness racing from New York tracks.

Harness signals haven’t been available at the three NYRA tracks—Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga—though harness tracks have long been wagering outlets for the NYRA product. The harness signals from six harness tracks now racing live in New York will be available effective Aug. 5.

Like the state’s Thoroughbred tracks, the harness facilities relied heavily on bets taken by New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., which went out of business last year.

“Opening harness racing to more fans is a common-sense move that will increase handle and continue to help tracks across the state make up for revenue lost when New York City OTB closed,” NYSRWB chairman John Sabini said in a statement. “Plus, NYRA has yet another excellent New York-based product to showcase at its facilities. With these approvals, New York’s entire horse racing industry is stronger and more viable for the future.”

Video lottery terminals, approved in 2001, have generated purse money and breed development funds that have greatly improved the quality of racing at New York harness tracks, even the smaller ones. Still, some have struggled to substantially increase pari-mutuel handle.

NYRA president and chief executive officer Charles Hayward said harness simulcasts would be offered at NYRA tracks and through the NYRA Rewards online wagering service.

Saratoga Casino and Raceway, which recently announced a double-digit increase in handle in the first half of 2011, has for the better part of a decade offered the Saratoga Thoroughbred full-card simulcasts in an arrangement with NYRA. Fears it would dent ontrack business at Saratoga in the afternoons were unfounded.

“Prior to New York City OTB’s closure there was considerable interest in our racing in the downstate market, and we’re confident that this will rekindle that interest,” said John Matarazzo, director of racing operations at the Spa harness track. “We are grateful to NYRA and the racing and wagering board for their efforts to promote New York racing.”