New York City OTB Chief Has Plans for Operation

On the sales block just a year ago, New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. is shedding its fire-sale image and moving ahead with plans to bring back bettors and forge new ties with racetracks, its new president said.

Raymond Casey, on the job now nearly four months after being recommended by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said his task ahead isn't about conditioning NYCOTB for a sale, but to pump it up into a entity that seeks to attract new fans to racing while bolstering its revenue-sharing with the cash-starved city budget.

"My view is you never run a business to sell it," Casey said in a wide-ranging interview. "I will run this place every day in a manner that it's going to be around forever."
In echoing Bloomberg, Casey said: "Right now, OTB is not for sale."

That is a far cry from just a year ago, when former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a cousin of Casey, proposed a sale of NYCOTB to a group led by Magna Entertainment for $250 million. The deal collapsed under political pressure at and fell to the back burner after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Bloomberg has talked of running the OTB more like a business than a quasi-government agency. Casey said he is taking steps--simple ones at first--to make North America's largest OTB operation more consumer-friendly.

He is spending money, though not much, on renovating parlors and teletheaters. Casey said bettors complained that there was so much information on NYCOTB's television channel that they couldn't read the odds. So, the corporation is using a second channel to split up the races and information displayed to bettors.

Casey also plans to open three more betting operations in privately owned restaurants in a bid to attract new racing fans that would not ordinarily go to OTB parlors.
"Customers have not been treated the way they should be," he said.

One of his top goals, Casey said, is to work better with racetracks. Casey said the NYCOTB television channel will, during the Saratoga meet, feature segments on New York breeders and New York-bred horses. In July, he hired Ted Nicholson, a former vice president of operations at Suffolk Downs and a former executive with Arlington Park, as executive vice president of business development.

He said Nicholson will ensure that the OTB "always has the consideration of racetracks at a very high level" when it makes business decisions. Cooperation, not competition, was the Casey's theme in a recent interview.

"I tell owners of tracks all the time that my dream is that on weekends, people can bring families out to racetracks and less to OTBs, and during the week, when they're at work, they can come to the OTBs," said. "If we can add to the fan base, it's good for the entire industry, not just OTBs."

Casey, a former prosecutor in the Queens district attorney's office, faces an immediate task: restoring the numbers. Since Sept. 11, which forced the temporary closing of several lower Manhattan betting outlets, NYCOTB's gross handle is running $25 million behind expectations. Business has picked up lately, but Casey said tens of thousands of workers, from which OTB parlors drew customers, no longer work in the area following the terrorist attacks.

Casey and other OTB corporation officials believe their real savior will be permission to simulcast nighttime Thoroughbred racing. Standardbred tracks, concerned about a loss of revenue, have blocked the measure. OTB officials said that with video lottery terminals coming to most New York tracks next year, the time has come to resolve the nighttime simulcasting issue.

"It's critically important to increase the fan base for New York City," Casey said. He estimates NYCOTB's annual handle, now about $1 billion, would increase by $100 million with evening Thoroughbred signals.
By Tom Precious