Response to racino owner's recent statement

06:51 PM 27 Oct 2010 NZDT
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Standardbred Owners Association of New York

The owner of two racinos in Upstate New York, who is also a major landlord and creditor of NYCOTB, recently circulated a critique of a position paper we harness racing horsemen distributed to legislators last week outlining our serious concerns with the proposed NYCOTB bailout plan.

While I have no great desire to get into a public back-and-forth with him regarding our obviously differing opinions on this plan, I do think it is important to clarify – especially for you and your legislative colleagues who are going to be asked for extensive, complex and problematic legislation by NYCOTB – some of the more glaring inaccuracies and incomplete information offered in his statement.

First and foremost, please know that despite this racino owner’s continued references to “our industry,” he most certainly DOES NOT speak for the harness horsemen, breeders, or countless individuals on the racing side of this discussion. It is the height of cynicism for a track owner who admittedly led the fight for the inclusion of numerous non-racing-related giveaways in this plan – including a failed attempt to restore a recent cut in their VLT vendor’s fee – to publicly suggest he has the greater interests of “the industry” at heart.

“The industry,” namely the horsemen and breeders who are the heart of this sport, were NEVER included at the table during the development of this plan and, as a result, the proposal released last week has “gives” for just about every interest group other than “the industry.” Despite what Mr. Gural, Mr. Rayburn, and Mr. Frucher before him want you to believe, the plan before you does not constitute "shared pain." Rather, it is "a 100% haircut” on the very individuals who make the multi-billion dollar racing and agriculture industry work for so many across the state. It is a plan imposed by a handful of racino operators and landlords to clearly benefit themselves.

Secondly, the suggestion that the horsemen will “share” in the benefits of transferring OTB’s phone and internet account wagering platforms to the tracks is purposefully misleading. What he neglects to mention is that more than half of the NYCOTB debt being “forgiven” in exchange for this advance deposit wagering system (ADW) is actually owed to the horsemen, yet the horsemen would have no ownership interest in the new company nor any role in this new entity’s governance. (In essence, this new track-based group is “buying” it with the horsemen’s money, but we are getting absolutely nothing in return.) Obviously we are prepared to use all available resources and legal remedies to protect our legal claim and we’re confident our position will be upheld.

Furthermore, the contention that “in order to offset losses to the industry it was agreed that OTB would be required to feature the New York racing product in all of the parlors and TV signals” is yet another half-story being used to mislead legislators about the plan actually on the table. What is actually on the table is a track-watered-down plan meant to appease the Kentucky-based Churchill Downs member of the creditor’s committee.

Any such proposal is fatally flawed, shortsighted, and does not achieve the contemplated benefit for New York racing. Finally, it also should be pointed out – as it was characterized by the racino owner himself who crafted the watered down version –that “broad language…which hopefully will accomplish that goal” isn’t particularly comforting to horsemen anxious to see detailed, legally enforceable language that will protect this industry and its 40,000 jobs.

I will conclude with a response to one final point included in the critique of the horsemen’s position, which questioned how the proposed reduction in race days at a NYS harness track “affects the viability of the sport in NY.” Beyond the disgraceful fact that this completely unrelated issue is even included in a NYCOTB bankruptcy plan, New York State legislators should recall that they had the wisdom (as recently as 2008) to legislatively mandate minimum race days – over the strenuous objection of this very same racino operator – to support agriculture and the racing industry and prevent racinos from trying to eliminate racing altogether.

This new proposal represents a direct and cynical attempt by the tracks to minimize their responsibility to live racing and it undermines the Legislature’s intent to support the racing and agriculture industries across New York. While it is true that the plan, as of now, reduces race days at one track, it is an unacceptable precedent that the track owners clearly will use to “open the door” to less racing in the future across New York State.

Less racing means less breeding, less horses, less mutuel clerks, less farriers, less feedmen and more farm managers, grooms and trainers on the state’s unemployment lines. This proposal alone should raise the level of consciousness of every legislator as to how very little this entire package has to do with “helping racing” and everything to do with helping a handful of wealthy racetrack operators. (Further, if you couple this with the proposal to reduce the percentage payable to the harness breeders and you can readily see that all of the “horse trading” done here has nothing to do with the restructuring of NYCOTB. It is offensive to both horsemen and breeders who were ultimately kept from the $11 million dollar seat they should have had at the table from the outset.)

While the New York Post recently concluded on their editorial page (10/25/2010) that it is finally time to “let NYCOTB die” – which it surely will within the next few years – we recognize that the Legislature may not be prepared to come to the same conclusion just yet and that you have a responsibility to thoughtfully consider accepting or rejecting the many proposals on the table. On behalf of New York’s horsemen, breeders and yes, “the racing industry,” we simply hope you will consider the very real, very serious concerns we have with this temporary “band aid” constructed by racino owners and one landlord and instead choose to include ALL of the relevant stakeholders in this important discussion.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me at 718-544-6800 or the SOA’s lobbyist, Yoswein New York, at 212-233-5700 with any questions or concerns. Thank you for your consideration.

Chris E WITTSTRUCK

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