Regulators to Decide Fate of NYRA Rebate Program

After nearly a year of delay, New York racing regulators are due to vote March 28 on a plan by the New York Racing Association to start a players' rewards program for frequent bettors.

The New York State Racing and Wagering Board, prodded for months by NYRA, its former court-appointed monitor, and some state officials, will decide whether to approve the new program, NYRA Rewards, for May 3, opening day at Belmont Park.

"It's good for the state, it's good for breeders, it's good for the horsemen, it's good for the customers, and it's definitely good for NYRA," said Bill Nader, senior vice president for NYRA. "I'm highly optimistic, now that it's on the agenda, it's going to be passed."

Racing board spokesman Daniel Toomey declined to discuss the application, except to say the board expects to decide the matter one way or the other at its regularly scheduled meeting.

A growing chorus of racing industry executives 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 the financially ailing association. The board's consideration of the program comes just 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 cash-flow problems.

The proposed program, which offers cash rebates, would create eight categories that would set awards based on how much is bet in a month. NYRA would reward one point for every dollar wagered on a NYRA race, and a half-point for simulcast races by customers in its rewards program.

The program requires bettors to obtain a minimum of 2,000 points per month to qualify; reaching that level gets them 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 fours, 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.

Nader said the program also would come at a time NYRA is expanding its telephone account wagering to late at night seven days a week; currently, the phone account wagering system is available from about noon until shortly after 6 p.m. five days a week. The rewards program would include both on-track and phone account wagers. The NYRA phone account program, which now uses only live operators, is expanding to touch tone, in both English and Spanish, and voice recognition.

The rewards program was first proposed by NYRA to the racing board last spring. A couple of off-track betting corporations are said to be looking into similar programs if the NYRA plan is approved.