NYRA, OTBs Said to Agree on Lower Takeout

Negotiations to permit the New York Racing Association to lower its pari-mutuel takeout, which NYRA believes will increase wagering, are close to a resolution, individuals involved in the talks said.

NYRA chairman Barry Schwartz has made it a personal mission of his fledgling reign to get the takeout lowered by state lawmakers in the coming weeks. Standing in his way, however, have been the state's politically potent off-track betting corporations, which say they will lose millions of dollars if they have to, for competitive reasons, match NYRA's lower takeout.

NYRA, according to sources, has agreed to several concessions that will give the OTBs additional simulcasting options as a way to blunt the impact of lower revenues.

"I think everybody believes it's going to happen," Jim Ryan, a lobbyist for the state's OTB corporations, said after a Friday afternoon negotiating session with NYRA representatives in Albany. "With a little accommodation by NYRA, and a little risk-taking by the OTBs, we should be there."

At issue are a number of what sources characterized as small sticking points, including whether to make the takeout cut long-term, as NYRA wants, or on a one-year experimental basis, which the OTBs want. Schwartz, who wants the takeout lowered for the Saratoga meet, couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

NYRA got legislation introduced in the Assembly and Senate to lower the takeout from 15 percent to 14 percent on straight bets, and from 20 percent to 17.5 percent on exotics. Pick-six bets on non-carryover days would go from 25 percent to 20 percent.

Since the bill was introduced, NYRA has agreed, sources said, to several demands by the OTB corporations that operate outside New York City. One provision permits the OTBs to simulcast two signals a day during the Saratoga meet. They also would be able to pick up one additional track for simulcasting from January to April, and there would be more simulcasting options during the half-dozen or so dates when Belmont Park races in the late afternoon. NYRA could offer two signals during the Saratoga meet.

Ryan estimated OTB corporations would lose up to $6 million a year from the lower takeout, an amount government officials say is inflated by several million dollars. OTB officials noted they went along with raising the takeout in 1995 at NYRA's request, when NYRA was cash-starved. Now, NYRA says the lower takeout will boost handle, particularly among more savvy bettors.

In other racing developments, final legislative approval has been given to permit NYRA to reduce its winter meet at Aqueduct by nearly two weeks. The Assembly, by a 140-1 vote, approved a measure that reduces the state-ordered minimum number of days NYRA must race at Aqueduct from 107 to 95. NYRA officials wanted more flexibility to keep the track dark during the December holiday season and around Easter when they report sluggish betting and often a shortage of horses.

Meanwhile, a coalition of racing interests will formally release its report June 19 on how much money video lottery terminals would bring New York and its racetracks if the devices were made legal. Details of the report have leaked out, such as its ambitious estimate that 12,500 VLTs could be placed at the state's Standardbred and Thoroughbred tracks, and result in nearly $4 billion in revenues for government and industry organizations.