Cease-Fire Called In Simulcasting War

A cease-fire has been called in the bitter feud between New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. and two upstate harness tracks. On Tuesday, NYCOTB agreed to resume simulcasts from Monticello Raceway and Vernon Downs.

The signals from the two tracks were stopped nearly two weeks ago in what NYCOTB officials said was “a business decision” affected, in part, by not having enough room for the signals during its daytime broadcast operations.

But industry officials said NYCOTB cut the signals to avenge the legislative defeat this summer of a measure to allow it and other off-track betting corporations to begin simulcasting evening Thoroughbred races. The Standardbred industry, concerned about a loss of revenues, beat back the plan.

“We're going to try to iron it out,” said Daniel Wray, executive director of legislative affairs for NYCOTB. He said the talks with the tracks would take place later this week at Saratoga. In the meantime, Wray said NYCOTB, in a sign of good faith, will again take the signals from Monticello and Vernon Downs.

“We don't want to see anybody get hurt,” he said. “But we need to come to an understanding with these tracks about what their role is and what our role is. We need to clarify everybody's role.”

“I'm very happy about it,” said Cliff Ehrlich, president of Monticello Raceway. He said an agenda for the meeting with NYCOTB officials hasn't been set, “but the topic is going to be to try to work out a simulcasting agreement. We've never had one with New York City OTB.”

Officials with the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, which sought to play an intermediary role in the battle, declined to comment.

The tracks complained that NYCOTB was using its financial might to crush the financially ailing tracks in the talks over nighttime Thoroughbred simulcasting and a host of other industry matters. Betting at Monticello, for instance, on the first Monday after the July 15 shutdown went from $126,000 on that same day a year earlier to $38,000.

John Signorelli, chief executive officer of Vernon Downs, said NYCOTB and several other OTBs, which cut the track's signal several times over the last month since the defeat of the legislation, were trying to “whip us into shape” to get their way.

But NYCOTB officials say they are under no legal obligation to take the tracks' signals. Moreover, they said the corporation pumps more money back to the racing industry than it does to the coffers of the New York City government, which owns NYCOTB.