The Post reports more arrests.
After he was able to cut off the VLT money, apparently Gov. Cuomo got the upper hand over NYRA, as this article suggests. Let’s hope the new, new NYRA (we now have the new NYRA, which hasn’t turned out so great) is a real, substantial improvement, and that at least one of the board members is a representative of the fan base, rather than the other already over-represented interests.
This story from the Times Union suggests that the VLTs at Saratoga may have shortchanged a bettor by deducting a greater amount from her accrued credits than the cost of each bet she made. The Lottery, which partners with the racinos in running the games, apparently removed some machines for testing. The racino apparently made good on the player’s complaint by giving her $200 free play.
This story does not prove that the racino is deliberately cheating patrons, but it does raise some questions, especially given the big expansion of gambling that is imminent in New York:
1. Is it appropriate for the Lottery, a partner with the racinos, also to be the body that regulates them? Government regulation of gambling always presents an implied conflict of interest when government derives revenue from the regulated casinos, but the Lottery-racino relationship seems a lttle more potentially conflicted that that of an independent regulator that is not partnered with the gaming operator.
2. Are the racinos the most appropriate operators of full-fledged casinos? In addition to this latest problem, they have, by omission if nothing else, misrepresented their video poker machines (with the tacit approval of the Lottery), as documented earlier on this blog. The racinos are lobbying hard to be permitted to offer “real” casino games, and one would have to believe they have a leg up on other potential entrants, since they already are operating gambling venues, and therefore will probably face less local opposition than outsiders trying to establish new facilities.
As the TU story notes, this most recent irregularity, viewed in conjunction with the NYRA scandal involving its retaining more from certain horse bettors than the law allowed, raises serious questions about the integrity and management quality of existing gaming operators in New York. It also shows the need for a strong, comprehensive and independent regulatory body if public confidence in gaming in New York is to be maintained or restored. Without that confidence, gambling will not produce the revenues to the government that are needed and expected.
Yesterday, a friend and I attended the horse races at Belmont Park, one of two major thoroughbred tracks in the New York City area (the other is Aqueduct, and they do not compete with each other – when one is open the other is not). Although it was an absolutely beautiful Saturday, and Preakness day, which one would think would cause more folks than usual to think of horse racing, paid attendance (at a venue capable of holding over 100,000, with 33,000 reserved seats, according to Wikipedia), was just a shade over 8,000. The place looked almost abandoned, with whole sections of the stands and betting windows closed off, and many of the food and beverage outlets also closed. It evoked a trip I made to Ellis Island before it became a slick museum, when you could see it literally just as it was when the government closed up shop in the 1950s. Of course, Belmont was still running, but it was a ghost of its former self, and much different than on my last visit, on a Belmont Stakes day several years ago.
I speculated out loud how the state of racing had come to this, and asked my friend (who is for practical purposes new to the game, having attended the races for the first time in ages a few weeks ago with me in Keeneland, which presented a wholly different picture). One problem was the quality of the card. Without going into detail, I’ll just tell you that the feature was a $100,000 stake for State-breds, three and up, at 7 furlongs on the dirt. The race attracted a field of only six, and the favorite — who ran true to form and won — went off at 3-4. The rest of the card, except for one very nice maiden special weight race on the turf, and a couple of allowance races, was the usual mix of state bred and/or claiming (including conditioned claiming, and the dregs-de-la-dregs, state bred maiden claiming) races. My friend, who liked Belmont a lot, did note one difference between it and Keeneland — at Belmont, because the track is so large, few races start in front of the stands. He enjoys watching the starts as well as the finishes, as I’m sure many race fans do. He also mentioned that gambling tastes have probably changed, and people don’t want to put in the work it takes to handicap races when instead they can mindlessly scratch off instant lottery tickets or press the buttons on slot machines.
Nonetheless, given that a family of four could park free, or ride the railroad from the City directly to the track, pay a total of $12 for admission, have a nice picnic in the paddock area in the presence of majestic thoroughbreds and colorfully-clad jockeys, and bet as little or as much as they wanted to and could afford, it was difficult for us to understand how so few people could have decided that an afternoon at Belmont Park would not be a bad way to spend part of a beautiful spring weekend day.
Maybe it doesn’t matter if people show up at the track or not, as long as total handle is enough to sustain the game. People may find it easier and more convenient to bet and watch from remote locations, with the track serving as an entertainment production facility that happens to let people in to watch, like a TV show filmed before a live audience rather than a Broadway show. But that surely wasn’t the intent of those who, some 60 years ago, enlarged the facility to accommodate 100,000 fans.
Fortunately, the possibility of this year’s Belmont Stakes producing the first triple crown winner in several decades will guarantee a full house on June 9. However, if Belmont needs a healthy on track handle to survive, one big day cannot make up for too many days like yesterday, not to mention the even more sparsely attended weekdays and weekend days when the weather is inclement. Aside from inflating the purses (indiscriminately, it seems to me), I don’t see the VLT money that was long anticipated as the savior of horse racing being put to any good use to develop or sustain fan interest. As I’ve written before, I foresee a time in the not too distant future when the State will have had enough and will take the money back to use for other purposes.
Here’s an item from the Times-Union about the latest NYRA kerfuffle. Seems the powers that be are upset about the promotion of someone who may be implicated in the takeout scandal. Appointing her before the controversy is resolved was a bonehead move, but arguably so was the firing of her predecessor before all the facts were out. Although the promotion may have set in motion the process for divesting NYRA of its franchise, the more interesting and immediate effect is the sequestration of $3,000,000 per month in VLT proceeds from the Aqueduct racino that had been earmarked for NYRA. Maybe if purses go down to pre-VLT levels, the horse breakdown problem will take care of itself. Incidentally, I recently read that a full 1% of VLT gross revenues go to the New York Breeders’ Fund. I have predicted that the high VLT takeouts will eventually cause the public to grow tired of this form of gambling, and I therefore believe that this 1% would better be returned to VLT patrons than given to the already over-subsidized and under-performing breeders of NY bred horses.
For those who frequently travel by air and other forms of public transit, a major inconvenience can be the “second” trips between one’s home and departure airport and one’s arrival airport and ultimate destination. In many areas, the only options are driving and paying exorbitant parking fees at the airport, expensive and often unreliable taxis and renting a car, which may not be appropriate when one’s ultimate destination is a city center with limited or prohibitively expensive parking. All the auto-based options also subject the user to getting stuck in traffic and risking missing a plane that won’t wait or an important meeting at the ultimate destination. Many cities provide an answer to this problem with direct transit links to their major commercial airports. Traveling to cities like Boston, Chicago and Atlanta is a pleasure due to the existence of inexpensive, direct rapid transit service between the airport and downtown. I’ve written about the direct bus service between the airport and downtown in New Orleans (not as good as rail transit, but a viable option for smaller metro areas). I’ve also written about CDTA’s virtual failure to provide such service in our area, though I think there could be a demand for it, especially if routed via Wolf Road and the Bus Plus route to downtown Albany, perhaps extending across the river to the Amtrak station.
In planning an international trip from which J. F. Kennedy airport in New York City is my air departure point, I was reminded of New York’s utter failure in this important area. After alighting from Amtrak in New York’s Penn Station, I would expect the greatest city in the world to offer a direct rail connection from that transit hub to the airport that is that city’s international gateway. Instead, what I get is the option of schlepping to either the Long Island Railroad (quicker but more expensive) or the subway, from which I need to change to another train to get to the airport.
What’s the big deal, you may ask? The web sites I’ve consulted do not indicate whether the change of trains in Jamaica (assuming the Long Island Railroad option, which I plan to use) is across the platform or requires climbing stairs (with the luggage for an international trip), which would preclude all but the physically robust from using it (I assume the subway option does involve stairs, which is why I’m springing for the LIRR). Another change of conveyance also offers the traveler (especially if not proficient in English) another chance to get on the wrong train, and it offers another chance for a missed connection due to bad weather or mechanical breakdown.
Flying to JFK (and having to get from one terminal to another) is cost-prohibitive. Taxis and buses are subject to getting stuck in traffic, a risk I cannot take due to my schedule. For me, the two-train option is the only practical one, though far less desirable than a one-train option would be. I will hope for the best, and upon my return write a post about how it works out.
Obviously, it is difficult if not impossible to overlay new transit lines in a fully-developed environment such as New York, and the visionaries who planned its airports did not consider direct rail links necessary.* Nonetheless, I find in difficult to believe that the greatest city in the world cannot have found a way (with its various transit partners) to provide a direct rail link between JFK (and its other airports) and midtown Manhattan, even it the route it follows is not the shortest. If it really is impossible, how about a system of HOV lanes on the highways linking the airports with midtown so that bus service can operate with less likelihood of traffic delay?
*Update (10/9/12)– my recent re-reading of Caro’s biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, reveals that one of Moses’s staff members suggested reserving land in the median of the Van Wyck Expressway, when it was being constructed to serve the airport, for future transit use. Moses, a strong opponent of public transit, vetoed the suggestion.