Regulators: Handle at NYRA Facilities Spikes

Handle at NYRA facilities has spiked since the closure of NYCOTB.

Total pari-mutuel handle at New York Racing Association tracks was up 76% in the first month after the shutdown of New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., according to state officials.

The increase amounts to about $11.6 million in added facility handle, according to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.

NYRA officials recently declined to provide a financial snapshot of its business since NYCOTB closed in December. The regulatory agency responded to a request by The Blood-Horse for its analysis of NYRA’s handle in the aftermath of the NYCOTB shutdown.

The period covers from Dec. 16 to Jan. 15 and compares it with the same time period a year earlier. Officials said about half the increase is from NYRA’s live racing product, with the rest bet on out-of-state Thoroughbred imports and through account wagering.

NYRA President Charles Hayward dismissed the information released by the racing board as misleading.

“I have no idea what numbers the board has nor can I vouch for their accuracy,’’ Hayward said in an e-mail response.

He added that NYRA’s export business -- a majority of its handle -- is down during the period and that its OTB business was “way off’’ because of the NYCOTB shutdown.

Hayward said NYRA is finalizing numbers showing its fiscal showing in the recent post-NYCOTB period, but will not be available for several days.

NYRA, with help from the racing and wagering board, expanded its reach to try to pick up former NYCOTB patrons, offering everything from bus service to Aqueduct and a new off-track betting parlor at Belmont Park to new incentives for its account wagering program. The board said NYRA’s Aqueduct attendance is running about 4,700 a day compared with 3,000 a day a year ago.

“That’s quite remarkable in the context of the brutal winter we are experiencing,” said Joseph Mahoney, a racing board spokesman.

Officials said the total amount bet offtrack on NYRA’s races is down about $10 million the past month, but NYRA made up for about half that loss with its facility handle. They noted NYRA makes more money from bets made directly at its tracks or through advance deposit wagering than on wagers made through OTB parlors in the state.

NYSRWB chairman John Sabini got industry stakeholders together in December to push through several initiatives to try to keep former NYCOTB patrons from fleeing to out-of-state ADWs or other betting outlets. Deals included tracks and OTB corporations offering live video streaming of each other’s products and board approval of an effort to permit bettors to more swiftly sign up for NYRA’s account wagering program.

The board and NYRA also worked out a deal with New York City to let NYRA use NYCOTB’s former television channel.

“Chairman Sabini got out of the gate rapidly, promoting constructive solutions to protect the New York wagering handle in ways that would assist New York tracks and the remaining regional OTBs—and better serve the needs of fans at the same time,” Mahoney said.

Officials said NYRA has gotten about half the betting business NYCOTB previously captured through NYRA wagers.

“With the increased revenue NYRA receives from an ontrack bet verses an offtrack bet, NYRA appears to be poised to survive the NYCOTB closure,” Mahoney said.

Richard Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said NYRA has done “a terrific job” grabbing Internet and phone business from the shuttered NYCOTB. He said the Belmont Café has quickly become the best OTB facility in the state in per capita and total handle.

“It shows you it isn’t hard to do,” Violette said. “All of that has certainly helped ease some of the pain with the closure of New York City OTB, but there’s still a shortfall.”

Violette said the horsemen are anxiously awaiting the opening of Aqueduct’s video lottery terminal facility later this year. In the meantime, Violette said, the numbers are still down enough that NYRA could rationalize a double-digit cut in purses if it wanted to.

“Until the VLT money is flowing, that spiral is still going down,” he said.

The racing and wagering board joined NYCOTB’s creditors to create a segregated account for revenue-sharing payments the corporation was required to pay but halted last year during its mounting fiscal problems. NYRA, regulators said, ultimately got $7.7 million from that NYCOTB account, which totaled $14 million, with another $1 million going to the New York Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund.