I recently read that some changes are in store for this season’s Saratoga meet, all of which seem to me negative from the fan’s perspective. Already paying more for admission, fans now will be asked to pay for reserved seats at some new picnic tables and in the Carousel. Several old trees will be removed to make way for a museum, despite the presence of one of national stature across the street. And a way of getting young people to the track, and maybe converting some of them into fans — the open house — will be no more.
What we don’t see, and I’m sure never will, is anything that recognizes that the track competes with other gambling venues. Improve the quality of racing on non “marquee” days? Lower the takeout? Provide free handicapping information? Throw your own account holders a bone by offering free admission to those showing NYRA rewards cards, even if only on weekdays? Not on your life. It’s all about squeezing the lemon.
I understand that NYRA is under pressure to be self-sustaining, and that it will not be easy for it to do so. I also understand that the amusement park model with which Mr. Kay is familiar is based on getting the “guests” to pay for everything. But amusements parks are sustained by many, many casual visitors who may visit a few times in a lifetime, or maybe once or twice a year. Racing is sustained by year-round bettors, who are finding it more and more difficult to stay in the game. What you can get out of the casual Saratoga fan, even if you squeeze the lemon really hard, isn’t going to keep the lights on at the Aqueduct tote board, and the few hundred lemons on the grounds there in January or February don’t contain much juice.