Survey, Questionnaire Reveal Opinions on New York

Edited press release

A survey authorized by Friends of New York Racing showed many New Yorkers aren't aware of the New York Racing Association's ongoing legal and financial problems, and that they aren't sure how the NYRA franchise should be structured.

The survey results, released Aug. 2, stemmed from a poll taken just after this year's Triple Crown. The sample size was 411, with a margin of error of 4.9%, according to the firm Schneiders, Della Volpe, Schulman.

The survey revealed that interest in and support for horse racing increased after the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). A "favorable" opinion about New York racing increased from a 19% net positive position in January (43% favorable, 24% unfavorable) to a 40% margin in June (60% favorable, 20% unfavorable). While the continued importance of horse racing to the state received plurality support in January (54% important, 46% not important), by June the margin was 63% important, 29% not important.

As for what type of entity should run Thoroughbred racing in the state, New Yorkers were more divided: 36% said a private non-profit corporation, 22% said a public-private partnership, 11% opted for a private, for-profit corporation, and 11% for a government entity. Nineteen percent indicated they didn't know.

In contrast to the public opinion poll, meant to measure attitudes of the state's adult population as a whole, an FNYR "industry questionnaire" was distributed to several hundred owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, off-track betting corporation executives, equine veterinarians, and other current participants in the business. Its purpose was to ask those most familiar with NYRA and industry issues for their priorities, opinions, and recommendations.

More than 85 of the detailed, nine-page questionnaires have been completed and returned thus far. Respondents were asked for their views in a variety of ways, including multiple choice and also more open-ended, essay-type questions. Participants could choose to provide their name or answer anonymously with just their affiliations.

Respondents strongly agreed that serious flaws exist in the current business model for New York Thoroughbred racing (82%); that video lottery terminals are needed at both Belmont Park and Aqueduct for New York purses to remain competitive (96%); that ownership of tracks and OTB corporations should be combined (81%); that the Interstate Horseracing Act should be amended to put New York horsemen on the same legal footing as all other states (83%); that the industry's legislative and political capabilities are "badly under-funded and ineffective" (60%); and that NYRA's greatest strengths relate to staging high quality racing (68%), while its biggest weakness has been "institutional arrogance" (69%).

A solid majority (64%) believes the recent investigations of NYRA by the Attorney General, State Comptroller, and U.S. Attorney would make "New York racing better off in the future," according to questionnaire results.

Almost half (48%) of the respondents weren't aware that state taxation of VLT operations is the highest in the country. On priorities for the future, growth in purses and "competitive integrity of racing" were mentioned most frequently. Stronger medication rules, testing, and enforcement also were strongly favored.

In contrast to the broader poll of New Yorkers in general, a clear majority of industry respondents favored a change from NYRA's current non-profit structure (favored by just 14%) to either operation by a for-profit company (35%) or by a combination of for-profit and non-profit interests (35%). Operations by a casino company (5%) or by government itself (4%) were the least favored options.

Of those that responded, 35 chose not to include their names, while more than 50 did. The largest participation was by owners and owner/breeders, followed by trainers.

FNYR officials indicated they would seek additional responses from currently under-represented groups such as OTB executives and equine veterinarians, before they finalize the project. Full results will be included with FNYR's final report, which is scheduled for release in October, probably before the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships is held at Belmont Park at the end of the month.