Meeting of the Minds -- Or at Least the Major Players -- on New York Racing

The racing industry's major stakeholders in New York state, more accustomed to battling than cooperation, came together Tuesday, Nov. 15 for an unprecedented gathering to try to reach consensus on ways to improve the state of their financial affairs.

The participants at the all-day session sponsored by the Friends of New York Racing, which included the heads of racetracks, OTBs, and groups representing breeders and horsemen, in the end reached no final agreement on any major impasse. But the participants sounded jubilant that no blood was shed and the sides agreed to keep meeting.

"The meeting went better than a lot of participants expected. No food was thrown,'' said Raymond Casey, president of the New York City Off Track Betting Corp.

"I learned a lot about their problems and they leaned a lot about ours,'' said Richard Bomze, the newly re-elected president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

The session, hosted by the Racing and Gaming Law Program at Albany Law School, did make some progress toward reaching resolutions in several areas, officials said.

Most noteworthy, according to FONYR head Tim Smith, was a consensus that the state needs to adopt a system to permit account wagering by an electronic means, not just the present telephone system. Smith said there was "broad agreement'' by all the stakeholders in such a system that it would be "pro-customer, pro-state and pro-racing reform.''

With no details provided, Smith said the group worked on "the basis for a future agreement'' on some sort of rebating system in New York to help the equine betting industry compete with out-of-state and off-shore rebaters. Smith said there was "broad recognition that rebating done the right something customers expect.'' He acknowledged, though, that the issue did not produce as broad a consensus as the account wagering debate.

Casey, who has expressed sharp criticism of a New York Racing Association "players club-type" system, said the group didn't specifically address the NYRA plan, but worked off a rebating proposal advanced by the FONYR group. He said the group moved forward on a rebating plan "more than I would have thought'' going into the meeting.

"Somehow, however we do it, it's got to happen, and everyone agreed to that,'' Bomze said of the rebating idea.

"Once we hit rebates, I thought we hit a dead end. It didn't work out that way,'' Bennett Liebman, head of the Albany Law School racing and wagering think tank, said of Tuesday's session.

The session, which was closed to the media, was billed as an event that would employ an outside facilitator to get the various factions to talk about 45 different ideas for changing state law to improve the racing industry. In the end, Smith said they agreed on about five or six ways; he did not specifically identify them.

Of some issues, Smith said, "Politically we might not be able to tackle or the Legislature might not want us to tackle.'' He cited a FONYR plan to permit VLTs at Belmont as one example the group didn't discuss.

"I think today was great,'' said NYRA President Charles Hayward. He said the day helped the group also recognize -- together as an entity -- that the New York racing industry is in a fiscal crisis.

The goal of the group, if it can break with the usual tradition in New York racing and stay together to reach a consensus, is to devise a plan that it would present to state officials early next year for major changes in state law to help jump start the racing industry. If there are such changes, "the roots might have been sown here today,'' said Dennis Brida, head of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

By the end, Smith said the feelings were such among the stakeholders that the ideas of an "alliance'' between racetracks and OTBs could be possible in a year. Though he distanced himself from the possibility of mergers, Smith said he envisioned some sort of financial "joint ventures'' that the sides would launch. He did not elaborate.

"There was a lot of good will and good feeling in the room,'' Brida said of the day's talks.