NY Regulators Create Panel of Racing Fans

Five-member group to help provide ideas to improve horse industries.

New York regulators are creating a panel of racing fans to help provide new ideas to pump life into the state’s struggling Thoroughbred and harness industries.

Creation of the five-member panel by the New York Racing and Wagering Board comes just days after the Legislature ended its 2011 session with bills dying in both houses that would have formed a similar advisory panel.

Members of the new group have not yet been named.

In a year when efforts to enact major reforms to the state’s racing and offtrack betting crumbled at the state Capitol, lawmakers in the end could not even agree on a deal to form a group of fans to give non-binding recommendations to help jump start racing.

The Racing Fan Advisory Council created June 29 by the racing board is nearly a carbon copy of legislation introduced in both the Senate and Assembly this year. Its mission would be to help regulators figure out ways to increase racing’s fan base as well as to incorporate procedures “to ensure that the opinion of the fan is a central part of the regulation of horse racing.” Three of the panel’s five members would be appointed by NYSWB chairman John Sabini with the other two coming from the heads of the racing committees in the two houses.

Assembly Racing Committee chairman Gary Pretlow recently said the fan advisory council bill died, in part, because the panel’s members would have had unfettered access to the grounds of a racetrack. In an era of tightened security and heightened awareness over performance-enhancing drugs that have shut down public access to backstretch areas in most New York tracks, Pretlow said such access would have been a step backward.

To address those concerns, members of the racing board-created fan advisory council will have to become licensed by the state, requiring a background check of prospective appointees.

Members of the council, according to Sabini, will be selected “on the basis of long-term involvement, interest in, knowledge and devotion to the sport of horse racing as fans of the sport.” Members will serve five-year terms.

“As the industry has suffered from declining handle, it would be prudent to hear from the fans whose interests, opinions and thoughtful suggestions have the potential to increase the popularity of New York racing and thus grow more jobs for our economy,” Sabini said at a June 29 meeting of the racing board.

Sabini said the panel’s creation is an attempt by regulators to consider more than just the views of owners, trainers and breeders. “What we all need to remember is that nobody gets a paycheck without the fans who enjoy playing the ponies” Sabini said.