Saturday, April 03, 2010

fears about racing cont'd with Oklahoma due to open 4/15/10.

The N.Y. way: Do nothing

First published: Friday, April 2, 2010

There was Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, up in Saratoga Springs to join the crowd making the case for some financial help for New York's endangered horse racing industry. As for what he said, let's qualify it -- and hope he similarly hedges his bets whenever he goes to the track.
"It is one of the most successful industries in the state and should be made a priority," Mr. Jennings said of racing.

He might have said that, but in the reverse order. He might have played that exacta the other way, in essence.

Racing is certainly critical to the economy in Saratoga Springs and throughout the region. Imagine trying to replace the lost jobs and fill all the restaurant tables and hotel rooms that would be empty if Saratoga Race Course went dark. Yet the racing industry can't sustain itself, and can't provide the benefits it does, without help from the state.

That's why Mr. Jennings was one of the people on Monday urging the appropriate action to bring video slot machines, finally, to Aqueduct Race Track. Further inaction threatens what is, indeed, a vibrant industry -- once those necessary subsidies are factored in.

The New York Racing Association, which operates Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont Park, has been waiting nine years for its share of the anticipated $300 million a year that a casino at Aqueduct would bring. That's not so unlike all the people who bet, and lost, on the infamous Zippy Chippy, the horse that retired after never winning in more than 100 tries. A similarly sluggish pace prevails in Albany, where what would should be a rather routine matter of awarding a casino contract seems beyond all collective capabilities.

Oh, there's wariness about how the Aqueduct Entertainment Group came so close to getting the casino contract earlier this year. New Yorkers deserve an answer to that vexing question, of course. But they're just as entitled to a state government that can find a qualified operator for an enterprise that's more critical than ever. By one estimate, reiterated by Joanne Yepsen of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, more than 35,000 racing-related jobs are at stake here.

NYRA's plight, meanwhile, is exacerbated by the bankruptcy filing by the New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., which owes NYRA $15 million. That money won't be there unless an OTB reorganization plan is approved by, yes, the state Legislature. The dismal straits at OTB add to the fearful speculation that the Saratoga meet could be in jeopardy.

To think that such summer splendor could be spoiled by legislative ineptitude.

Only in New York.

The issue:

Failure to produce any revenue from an Aqueduct casino puts racing at Saratoga in a bind.

The Stakes:

The threat extends to some key sectors of the region's economy.

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