Night Thoroughbred Signals Sought by New York City

In search of every last penny to balance the city's budget, New York City officials are trying to convince state officials to allow New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. to simulcast Thoroughbred racing at night.

"I think it is the right time," NYCOTB president Raymond Casey said of the lobbying effort to beat back years of opposition from Standardbred tracks that has kept the nighttime simulcasting issue unresolved.

With the New York City budget facing a huge shortfall in the coming year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent spending plan calls for the nighttime simulcasting measure to bring $14 million a year to the city. "And that's a conservative number," Casey said.

Gone from the mayor's budget submission is a much larger, and more controversial, revenue-raiser: the $250 million the city had once counted on in an immediate cash infusion from the sale of NYCOTB.

The previous mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, had tried to sell the corporation shortly before he left office a year ago. Bloomberg, however, has said he wants to improve operations at NYCOTB before considering whether to sell it again.

The sale had also run into political roadblocks in Albany, where the New York Racing Association, which lost out in the 2001 bidding for NYCOTB to Magna Entertainment, has numerous allies.

OTB corporations for years have pushed for approval to simulcast Thoroughbred racing at night. Currently, only harness racing can be simulcast at night, a longstanding provision in state law designed to protect the industry.

But New York City officials believe that, given the city's fiscal condition and the state's own inability to provide much relief, they are in a better lobbying position to get the simulcasting measure approved than in previous years. The measure would benefit the state, which would be in line for an additional $5 million or so from the expanded betting, as well as the Thoroughbred industry across the country via access to the lucrative New York marketplace at night.

"Nighttime racing is not going to solve the fiscal situation New York is facing," Casey said, but he called it "a revenue stream that doesn't take away from other revenue. It's not taking from Peter to give to Paul."

Actual legislation has not been introduced, but previous bills on the matter have included some sort of revenue-sharing plan for harness tracks in return for nighttime Thoroughbred simulcasting.

Casey said nighttime racing is important because of NYCOTB's plans to further expand into the restaurant business in New York City.

"We should be able to bring both harness and Thoroughbred excitement to people when they are not at work, that means at night," he said. "We need to leave the choice to customers. Let them watch want they want to watch, and let them wager on what they want to wager on."