A Seat in the Bleachers: VLT debacle is killing horse racing in New York

Amid layoffs in the crippled horse racing industry, Gov. David Paterson and the New York state legis

Remember that great 1981 David Cronenberg movie “Scanners”?

It ain’t just a movie, after all.

The state government is riddled with scanners.

How do I know this? Because I think my head is about to explode.

I was in the Las Vegas airport a week and a half ago on my way to Spokane, Wash., for Siena’s first-round game against Purdue, and the hundreds of slot machines jangling away nearly drove me mad (an over two-hour layover, thank you). Big signs advertising The Gun Store — yes, in the airport terminal — tempted me to go buy an AK-47 (“TRY ONE!”) and silence these machines.

Now that I think about it, though, that sound wasn’t so bad.

The alternative, at Aqueduct Race Track, is a silence that’s deafening.

The hits just keep coming. More bad news from the New York Racing Association this week, as they laid off 12 people from administrative positions to cleave $1.4 million from their payroll.

Meanwhile, Gov. David Paterson and the New York state legislature continue to be maddeningly incap­able of awarding a contract to someone, anyone, to install and operate 4,500 slot machines at Aqueduct, which were approved eight years ago. Eight years.

It reminds me of a great quote from a New England Patriots player — I think it was Ty Law — who signed an outrageously long-term contract a number of years ago and quipped, “I wanted to be around when they finish the Big Dig.”

I hope to live long enough to see slots at Aqueduct, not because I like slots, but because of the impact that it would have on New York’s racing, which will exper­ience an interesting summer, now that Monmouth Park in New Jersey has made the bold and risky move of running fewer days and raising purses.

The trickle of New York-based breeders, trainers and owners to other tracks and states has already begun. Just wait until Monmouth starts cranking $1 million in purses per day, and some of the races at hallowed Saratoga will look like the B-list.

As the theory goes, and has been supported by data, bigger purses lead to bigger fields lead to more betting handle, which rolls back to support purses, and so on.

There are some people out there actually using their heads and using some guts to attempt to make racing thrive, or at least survive, with or without slot revenue.

New Jersey is surrounded by states that have casinos and slot machines, and these states have been siphoning good horses away from New Jersey.

In a national teleconference two weeks ago, Monmouth vice pres­ident and general manager Robert Kulina said, “We decided we needed to have a future.

“We really had no other way to save ourselves from some sort of extinction.”

I’d like to see the word “decided” be used in association with New York sometime in the not-too-distant future.

I don’t consider myself a Chicken Little, and the word “extinction” is too strong for places like Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct, but you can’t help but shudder at what lies in store for racing in this state, if something doesn’t get done soon.

People are certainly fed up and desperately trying to have their voices heard.

Six trainers with horses entered in the first race at Aqueduct last Sunday boycotted the race, which was cancelled, and they were fined $500 each, as part of a protest that was held at Belmont Park, where people held signs that said, “35,000 JOBS AT RISK!!!”

Later in the week, the New York Thoughbred Breeders’ Jeffrey Cannizzo and New York Thoroughbred Horsemen Association’s Rick Violette, who organized the protest, made a joint statement: “Gov. David Paterson has reinstituted the death penalty in New York state, at least when it comes to the horse racing industry. The governor’s shocking plan to rebid the Aqueduct casino project, a process that his own staff says could end up delaying decision until Dec. 31, is disastrous. It is incomprehensible that [at] a time that New York State is drowning in red ink, that this governor would not seek the fastest, most intelligent solution, one which would infuse a million dollars a day into the state treasury.”

The whole predicament isn’t helped by the fact that the polit­ical cesspool that is the New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. was allowed in court this week to continue Chapter 9 bankruptcy, despite protests from the cash-strapped NYRA, which claims to be owed $15 million by NYCOTB.

NYCOTB passed out layoff not­ices to employees on Friday that will take effect on April 11, which would shut down 66 betting parlors and put 1,300 people out of work.

What a week.

When does the sense of urgency finally kick in for the state government?

Will it ever?

Categories: -Sports-

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