This may be premature, as NYC OTB seems to have at least the proverbial nine lives, but I say good riddance to NYC OTB. Its sleazy parlors degraded the sport of kings; its surcharges ripped off the innumerate gamblers who patronized those parlors, and it was a dumping ground for “my leader sent me” pols who ran it into the ground. Much of the same can be said for the other regional OTBs throughout the state, which also were denied a bailout, though none is threating imminent closure.
I was a NYC resident when “Howie the Horse” Samuels was touting OTB as a cure to all the government’s fiscal woes (this was not long after the nuclear power industry’s advertising campaign touting electricity “too cheap to meter”). The visionaries at NYRA wanted nothing to do with OTB, believing that no one would bet on horses without being able to see the horses live and up close.
However, the task before State government, NYRA and the surviving OTBs is to look forward, not backward, and do what’s necessary to save a dying industry.
First and foremost, all the above-named players, as well as the horsemen and horsewomen, need to recognize that the fan — and particularly the betting fan — is the engine that drives the whole racing machine. The fan has been abused for far too long with poor races (particularly in NY bred races), small fields, high takeoouts and facilities that are, in most cases, not customer-friendly. No wonder they have flocked to other forms of gambling offering free parking and admission, generous comps, and, in some cases, a much better opportunity to come out even or ahead at the end of the year.
Among the things that need to be done are:
1. Cut the takeout. A good place to start would be to cut back the NY bred program, and return the cost savings to the bettors in the form of reduced takeout. Instead of funding $55,000 purses for $10,000 claimers, provide small but meaningful bonuses for NY breds that win open races.
2. Move from a parlor-based off-track betting model to an internet-based model. Stream the product via satellite and internet, and pay selected sports bars and restaurants to carry the signal.
3. Provide free handicapping information. This seems to work well in Las Vegas, where horse betting is the most profitable product most sports books offer.
4. Realize that year-round racing in NY is unsustainable. Before the racino deal, it would have made sense to close Aqueduct, sell the land, and give everyone the winter off. I don’t know if Aqueduct can remain as a racino only, but the possibility should be explored.
Even with all this, it’s possible that horse racing is a sport whose time has come and gone (with the possible exception in NY of Saratoga). If so, should the government keep it going at taxpayer expense? Although I’m a fan, I hate what racing in NY has become, and would reluctantly say it should not.


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