A recent story in the Times-Union about an open NYRA board meeting shed some light on the Association’s finances, and showed that the board may be recognizing two things you read about here first: that the VLT revenues cannot be counted upon to balance the books and that Aqueduct may have to be closed. While this realism is refreshing, it begs the question whether a NYRA without VLT revenues can ever be profitable, with or without Aqueduct. Among the questions I think the board needs to answer, if it can: Is horse racing standing alone profitable anywhere? If so, what are the owners of the profitable venues doing that NYRA isn’t? Are there any differences in the regulatory or tax structures that could explain the difference?
Even with the changes I’ve proposed to racing — reducing the takeout, better customer service and amenities, shorter meets of higher quality, etc. — it may be that the public’s tastes have changed and that nothing can be done to make thoroughbred racing profitable in New York. If that is so, does the State pull the plug, putting many people out of work, or does it find a way to subsidize a losing operation?
If history is a guide, New York will try to prop up NYRA and keep racing going at a loss. If the constitutional amendment permitting casino gambling passes, NYRA and the other horse racing venues in the State will no doubt seek casino licenses, as they sought the VLT franchises, in the hope that casino winnings will offset racing losses. If that transpires, I predict the VLT cycle will be repeated, and eventually the casino profits will either be diverted to other State purposes or they will dry up because of over saturation of the market.
Far preferable, in my view, would be an ultimatum: run at a profit (unsubsidized by other gambling revenues) within five years or be gone. To meet that goal, you might see Aqueduct and even Belmont close; Saratoga probably would survive, though any significant lengthening of the Spa season would hurt that venue.