New York Regulators Approve Rewards Programs

New York racing regulators have approved a plan by the New York Racing Association and Capital District Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. to start players rewards programs for frequent bettors.

On March 28, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board approved the NYRA Rewards program, which will begin May 3, opening day at Belmont Park. A similar program was also approved for Capital OTB, which has facilities in a large part of upstate New York.

"It's a great day," NYRA spokesman William Nader said after the board approval. "It's something that is good for every facet of the industry, from the customer to the owner to the breeder to the state of New York, and also to NYRA. We can be customer-friendly and do the kinds of things that make NYRA a better business."

Racing industry officials and associations, including Friends of New York Racing, has called for the creation of a frequent bettors club at NYRA as a way to bring additional sources of cash, especially from deep-pocketed bettors, to financially ailing NYRA. The board's approval of the program came days after state lawmakers gave initial backing to a $5-million loan--part of an overall $30-million bailout from the state--to help ease NYRA's cash-flow problems.

The new program will reward players with cash back and create eight categories that would set awards based on how much is bet in a month. NYRA will reward one point for every dollar wagered on a NYRA race and a half-point for simulcast races by customers in its NYRA Rewards program. To be eligible, customers must be enrolled in NYRA's telephone account wagering program.

The program requires a minimum of 2,000 points per month; reaching that level would give 1% cash back on all wagers. If a maximum of 500,000 points are earned per month, bettors get 3% back on win, place, and show wagers, 4% on bets such as daily doubles, and 7% on trifectas, pick four and other exotic bets.

"It would allow us to reward our customers in ways that we cannot do today, and provide incentives for people to bet with NYRA and, more importantly, bet more with NYRA," Nader said before the vote by the racing board.

NYRA is expanding its telephone account wagering to late at night seven days a week; currently, the phone account wagering system runs from about noon until shortly after 6 p.m. five days a week. The players rewards program will include both phone account wagers and those made on-track at self-service wagering terminals.

Capital OTB president Michael Connery said the corporation's Cash Reward Program will "benefit our loyal patrons for supporting Capital OTB. Capital has taken aggressive actions over the past few years to implement many customer-friendly promotions, including free online handicapping contests. The new Cash Reward Program will build on those successes."

Capital OTB expects to begin the Cash Reward Program in early April 2006 on its phone-a-bet system, which includes live operators, touch tone, and voice activation options, as well as at its flagship location--the Albany Teletheater. The program is expected to eventually cover the entire Capital OTB region--all 17 counties--including all 42 branches and 35 EZ Bet locations.

The Capital OTB program will initially involve only New York racetracks but will expand as approvals from out-of-state tracks are received for the program. Based on accumulated points, rebates will run from 1%-7% depending on type of wager.

NYRA, effective April 1, is required to raise its takeout on win, place, and show wagers by 1%, to 15%.