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May 16, 2014

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD-BELMONT MISTAKES

By: JOE GIRARDI


               The Belmont Park meeting is underway and off to a good start from the racing side of things. The powers that be are salivating as they wait for the result of this week’s Preakness Stakes. A win by the Kentucky Derby hero, California Chrome and they are almost guaranteed a crowd of over 100,000. Just think how much money they could charge for admission and parking then. The reason I say this with such sarcasm is that how the NYRA is being run doesn’t sit well with me.

               First off they raised the prices on parking and admissions, now the clubhouse stayed the same but there is no longer any grandstand admission, it is all one price for $5. The argument that I have heard forever is that, well this is in line with other sporting events in the area, etc, etc. Well that is all well and good and yes the price of $5 is not that much, however, when you make your money not off admissions and off the money that is bet each day, which is called handle, you need more people to come to the racetrack and wager and not wager off track. If customers wager off track on NYRA races the NYRA receives a very small portion of that wager. However, if it is wagered on-track they receive the whole wager, depending what type of wager it is and how much of a takeout there is. In this world of simulcasting that we live in there are many tracks to play each day, so again if I am at a NYRA track and I wager on let’s say a race from Gulfstream, Gulfstream sees a small portion of that while the NYRA gets the bulk of it because it is wagered on-track or through NYRA REWARDS. The long and short of it is, the less people at the track and the less people playing through NYRA REWARDS, the less money the NYRA makes off the handle. Right now as it is presently constituted the NYRA has a security blanket, they receive money every year from Genting, the company which runs the casino at Aqueduct. The only problem with this is the money at some point will come to an end. Believe me, Genting doesn’t want racing at Aqueduct and the state of New York, which when they eventually pass table games at the Aqueduct casino will be more than happy to allow Genting to build hotels, restaurants and anything besides racing. The NYRA has a HUGE opportunity to solidify their racing side of things and start to develop a strong relationship with their horse racing fans. However, by the decisions made at the start of this meet it seems that they just don’t understand.

               I spoke earlier about the raise in parking and admissions. Let me clarify, the preferred parking and the “clubhouse parking” went up. You can still park for free about a mile away where they store all the new cars. That’s right, the parking lot that was once field with cars of people that were inside the track and now filled by cars that are being stored for care dealerships. I knew there would be changes that I would be disappointed with but when I went upstairs to the third floor of the grandstand I had to laugh. There is about a ¼ of the floor open with a dingy green wall blocking access. If you came to the Belmont for the first time after seeing this why would you come back, looks like they don’t want you there. I went out to the huge backyard and they made some changes there as well. They tore down a mutuel bay that was there forever, they still have these large screen televisions that you clearly can’t see yet they roll them out every year. They laid down new sod in the backyard, only problem was it wasn’t finished yet, at least a 1/3 of the backyard had to still be sodded. I guess the opening day date just popped up on them. It’s not like it was on the calendar? Unbelievable. Also, the customer experience which Chris Kay, the CEO says he wants for the customer was probably enhanced by the $5 bottle of soda, the $4.50 bottle of water, and the $3 bag of chips. Wow, I can’t wait to run there and spend my money on that. But I guess the answer will be, it is in line with other sporting events. Right like the super bowl or the US Open Tennis. When will those who run the racetracks understand that you need new fans, fans that actually come to the track and wager on the races on-track or through the track’s telephone betting/internet platforms. The other thing they need to now, one of 100’s of things that need to be changed but this is most important. You need to offer the bettor something the bettor needs. Free admissions, racing forms, a free voucher when you walk in, hey why not, they will bet it through the windows and hopefully win and bet more. To try and discourage the customers to be on-track and play with the NYRA will be their downfall. Let’s hope some of these things change before it is too late.



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