Conflict Between NYRA, Track Cooperative Heats Up

With the New York Racing Association's handle down since its signal was pulled by the MidAtlantic Cooperative in mid-September, NYRA chairman Barry Schwartz said the dispute can be resolved only if the racetracks in the group "come to their senses."

Schwartz sought to downplay how much the decision to pull the simulcast signal by the MidAtlantic Cooperative has had on NYRA's bottom line. Though interstate handle on Belmont Park races was off 20.5% in five racing days after the tracks and their off-track betting parlors pulled the signal, Schwartz attributed much of the slide to the remnants of a hurricane that hit Belmont on a weekend.

NYRA's signal was pulled after the consortium accused NYRA of limiting account wagering in Pennsylvania and New Jersey after it struck an exclusive simulcasting deal with TV Games Network.

Schwartz also also opened some old NYRA wounds by sharply criticizing the MidAtlantic Cooperative's executive director, Martin Lieberman. Schwartz said Lieberman, who was once a top NYRA official, was characterized in publications as saying the dispute was about principle, not economics.

"I wish he was so principled when he was one of the key executives here when all the troubles (at NYRA) started," Schwartz said.

NYRA, which has seen employees go to jail and is now operating under the eyes of a court-appointed monitor, has been sharply criticized in recent years by state and federal officials for how it operates. Schwartz claimed NYRA's problems began when Lieberman was at NYRA.

"I won't dignify his statement with a response," said Lieberman, who held a number of senior titles at NYRA from 1978 through 1999.

Lieberman said the racetracks in the co-op have a strong desire to show NYRA's signal, but that NYRA, with its TVG deal, changed the terms of an arrangement the cooperative had with the New York racetracks for at least the past five years.

Lieberman said he couldn't immediately provide information on the impact of the pulled signal at member tracks, but said he has tracked NYRA's handle on a daily basis.

"The results are not good," he said of NYRA's handle. "But NYRA can most definitely speak for (itself)."

Lieberman said the consortium has asked NYRA to reconsider. "We want the widest dissemination of quality signals, and NYRA is undoubtedly quite good," he said. "But not under the restraints or conditions they suddenly placed on their signals."

The MidAtlantic Cooperative represents tracks in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts and Rockingham Park in New Hampshire.

Asked if he sees a way out of the stalemate, Schwartz said: "Hopefully, they'll come to their senses." He said there is nothing for NYRA to negotiate since it already has signed the contract with TVG.

NYRA, despite its pledge of operating with more transparency, has refused to make public its TVG contract. Schwartz cited "trade secrets" for the decision.

As for Belmont's underwhelming performance, Schwartz blamed bad weather and smaller field sizes for the lower handle. "We have another five weeks to go. Give me another month," he said.