NY May Launch 'I Love NY Racing' Program

Pending legislation would direct state grants toward promoting racetracks and farms

A measure to create a government advisory group to concentrate on ways to bring fans to horse racing in New York is gaining momentum at the state Capitol in the remaining weeks of the 2011 legislative session.

The legislation, now listed as “same as” bills in both the Senate and Assembly, also forms an I Love NY Racing promotional program, modeled on the state’s longtime I Love NY tourism efforts, to use grants and the state’s economic development agencies to try to jumpstart the racing industry.

The measure calls for state grants to be steered to tourism agencies and not-for-profit organizations that would work with the new racing fan advisory group to promote tours of tracks and horse farms and other efforts “to teach fans about the sport of horse racing.”

Another provision creates an annual Horse Racing Farm of the Year award by the state agriculture department to breeding and racing facilities that show “exceptional” efforts “to develop New York’s horse racing industry.”

The marketing ideas come as tracks struggle to compete with an ever-growing number of gambling alternatives in New York—a reality driven home by the Chapter 9 bankruptcy filings of two big off-track betting corporations in the state over the past 17 months.

Still not moving at the Capitol are efforts to merge some operations or create new business models for tracks and the government-run OTBs that continue to do battle over dwindling betting handle.

The racing fan bill was sponsored earlier this session by Republican Sen. John Bonacic, the new chairman of the Senate racing committee, who is also supportive of efforts to bring non-Indian casinos to his region of the Catskills. The effort got a boost this week when Assemblyman Gary Pretlow introduced similar legislation. Pretlow’s bill differed from Bonacic's by making the racing board positions non-salaried. Bonacic quickly amended his bill this week to make it the same as Pretlow’s new legislation.

The measure seeks to push the state into taking a more direct role in trying to market the horse racing industry. “The development of the racing fan base and the promotion of the sport of racing is critical to the future success of the sport. This legislation seeks to better involve racing fans in developing the sport of racing and promoting the sport of racing,” states a legislative memo accompanying the bill.

The bill calls for a seven-member fan advisory board to give recommendations for improving the industry to the state’s racing and wagering board, which is the chief regulatory body over racing. The panel would be selected by the governor, legislators, and the racing board.

Board members, serving for seven years, would be barred from owning more than one horse that races competitively at any track regulated by the state. In appointing the members, the bill requires consideration that one member come from a “non-profit corporation which seeks to promote fan development” in racing, another is employed by an OTB, and a third is a horse veterinarian.

The panel’s members would be required to file an oath of office and, like other policy-making employees in New York, file an annual public financial disclosure form each year. They would be given licenses providing access to tracks and backstretch areas of all New York tracks.

The advisory board, besides coming up with ideas to improve the fan base, would also report on the operations of Thoroughbred and harness tracks to determine if they are “serving the growth” of racing. It would also make recommendations to the racing board on specific steps regulators could take to improve fan attendance at tracks or OTB parlors.