KEEP-Type Organization Suggested for New York

Friends of New York Racing proposes formation of an industry advocacy group to represent all factions in the effort to develop a new structure for the pari-mutuel industry in the Empire state.

During remarks Aug. 21 at The Jockey Club Round Table Conference in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., FNYR president Tim Smith said the organization would dovetail with long-term funding for an ongoing effort to establish firm representation in the state capital. He floated the idea of using a "small percentage" of revenue from racetrack-based video lottery terminals to fund the group.

"Many other industries organize themselves this way," Smith said. New York, he said, isn't organized like it should be, given its importance in the national picture because of "rampant industry factionalization."

Horse industry advocacy groups have been formed in a few states, including Kentucky and Michigan. The Kentucky Equine Education Project, which has gained considerable clout in a little more than a year's time, is developing expanded-gambling legislation for the 2006 General Assembly session in the Bluegrass state.

Smith said FNYR would have broad legislation ready by this fall. But he said the effort must continue long after the "shelf life" of FNYR ends.

"The national experience will show that for this kind of effort to be successful, it must be multi-year, not one-shot in nature," Smith said.

Charles Hayward, president of the New York Racing Association, said NYRA would be an "active participant in any RFP process" for its franchise, which expires at the end of 2007. He said he believes the majority of New Yorkers want New York racing to be run by New Yorkers, not by "Louisville, Ky., Toronto, Canada, or Las Vegas, Nev."

In another Round Table presentation, Mark Shapiro, the outgoing executive vice president of programming and production for ESPN, said the network's wide range of platforms serves horse racing well. But he said the industry must decide what it wants to be in order to take advantage of them.

Shapiro said about 97 million people a week connect to the ESPN brand.

"That's power," he said. "Tell people something is important, and they catch it. They believe it. Brand strength counts greatly."

Shapiro is leaving ESPN Oct. 1 to become an executive for a company whose holdings include the Six Flags amusement parks. He said there are parallels between racetracks and roller coasters.

"We call it the emotional transportation business," Shapiro said. "There is some kind of an emotional response elicited every time we go to the track. It's a communal experience at its best."

It remains to be seen what the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships broadcast will look like when ESPN takes over in 2006, but Shapiro's comments indicate a need for horse racing to embrace what he called the "human element." He noted how horses "come and go" and therefore are very difficult to market to the public.