Suffolk OTB Woes a 'Wake-Up Call' to Industry

NYSRWB chief sees troubles facing L.I. OTB which may seek Ch. 9 bankruptcy protection

New York’s top racing regulator said he knows of no other off-track betting corporation facing the kinds of financial troubles of Suffolk County Off-Track Betting Corp., which is threatening to seek bankruptcy protection.

But John Sabini, chairman of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, said the problems facing Suffolk so soon after the closure of the New York City OTB should serve as a wake-up call to the rest of the industry to work together to share services and cut expenses.

“All the OTBs need to get real to the economic situation,” Sabini said shortly after Suffolk OTB executives met March 1 with officials from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to discuss a possible Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing by the Long Island OTB entity.

“Instead of carping all the time about the racing law, which I believe is unfair to the OTBs, they need to deal with the realities of the snapshot of today, which is streamlining, consolidating, doing shared services with other OTBs,” Sabini said in an interview.

The chairman’s comments came as the Suffolk OTB will ask county legislators March 3 for authorization to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy reorganization – the route taken by the now-shuttered New York City OTB.

But Suffolk officials indicated that they don’t see their OTB going the same route as the NYCOTB.

“Going forward we will reconfigure our business model in anticipation of eventually operating in the black,” said Debbie Pfeiffer, a Suffolk OTB spokeswoman. In a statement she said the OTB is considering parlor closings and an increased reliance on Internet and phone betting to bring in revenues for the public benefit corporation.

The OTB will ask the county Legislature to back authorization of a Chapter 9 filing “only if we deem it necessary,” Pfeiffer said. “Our goal is to implement our reorganization plan and emerge a stronger and more profitable corporation, with the ability to continue turning over revenue to Suffolk County and its taxpayers and providing financial support to the racing industry.”

In an interview, Sabini said he believes the Suffolk OTB can go with the Chapter 9 filing without state approval. He said his staff has been examining the OTB’s finances “with a high-powered microscope” for the past two months; he said none of the other OTBs in the state are facing the same level of review as Suffolk. Sabini declined to elaborate on the assessment of the Suffolk OTB’s fiscal health, saying the board has requested more financial information in the past several days.

The racing industry regulator said Suffolk OTB has slowed statutory payments to groups like the New York Racing Association.

“The concern is they are able to meet their obligations to their racing partners – the people that provide the signal, and also that they can meet the obligations to their account wagers and that they can pay off wagers,” Sabini said of Suffolk.

The problems facing Suffolk come just three months after NYCOTB, the nation’s biggest off-track betting operation, closed its doors following an inability of state officials to agree on a reorganization plan.