State racing regulators have begun investigating a nasty new battle between the New York City Off Track Betting Corp. and Monticello Raceway and Vernon Downs after the big betting outfit suddenly stopped simulcasting races from the two upstate Standardbred tracks.
NYCOTB officials insist the move was merely a business decision made, in part, because there wasn't enough simulcasting space during its daytime broadcast operations. But track and other industry officials say the yanking of the signals comes as retribution following a failed effort this summer by NYCOTB and the state's other OTBs to win legislative approval of a plan for nighttime Thoroughbred simulcasting. Opposition by the tracks beat back the measure.
Either way, the decision by NYCOTB is costing the two tracks thousands of dollars a day in lost revenues. In a move that left some racing insiders scratching their heads, Monticello's signal was cut by NYCOTB, but betting is still accepted on its races. Betting at NYCOTB on Monticello races the first Monday after the July 15 shutdown went from $126,000 on that same day a year earlier to $38,000. The lost revenues are affecting horsemen, who share in the revenues.
Meanwhile, Vernon's signal and wagers were both suspended, and officials there say the tracks signals have been interrupted off and on by several other off-track betting corporations—a clear sign, they say, the betting entities are working together to punish the tracks for opposing the bill.
John Signorelli, Vernon's chief executive officer, said the situation shows how out-of-hand the whole relationship between tracks and OTBs have become in New York over the past three decades. “It's just pathetic,” he said. “The rest of the country has gone to school and figured out the best ways to revive the industry. Here in New York, we have the most antiquated, most absurd mandates man could ever devise.”
NYCOTB officials dismiss claims of retribution as a reason for pulling the signals. But, said Daniel Wray, NYCOTB's legislative affairs executive director, said: “We're making a business decision based on the fact that we'd like to sit down with all these tracks to understand what our mandates are and what their mandates are. We're trying to make a point that we need to sit down and see what everybody's interests are.”
Wray said the OTB is under no state mandate to take any simulcasting signal from any track, nor do Monticello and Vernon even have contracts with NYCOTB.