Hey, NYRA: If You Rebuild It (Belmont), They Still Won’t Come

In an effort to secure a nearly-half-billion-dollar bond package from the state to rebuild Belmont Park – a debt that would be repaid with already-existing subsidies – the New York Racing Association (NYRA) has launched a new PR campaign, complete with a glossy power point. Amid a swarm of impressive numbers – the usual suspects: jobs, tax revenue, economic activity – that are all sourceless projections, is this laughable promise under the heading “Diversified Audiences”:

“New programming, modern concessions and facilities, and enhanced transit accessibility will attract a younger, more diverse generation of race-goers.”

To quote a colleague here in NY, “If you rebuild it, they still won’t come.” Saratoga excepted, attendance at NYS Thoroughbred tracks has been in steep, steady decline for decades. (Obviously, what applies to the flats goes in spades for harness.) According to official data from the NYS Gaming Commission, the attendance figures at the three other state tracks in 1978 were as follows:

Aqueduct: 2,919,303
Belmont: 2,526,305
Finger Lakes: 651,853

And 2019:
Aqueduct: 184,181
Belmont: 339,677
Finger Lakes (this is for 2018, as, surprise, FL no longer reports attendance): 111,318

The change in 40 years:
Aqueduct: down 94%
Belmont: down 87%
Finger Lakes: down 83%

On second thought, perhaps “steep and steady” doesn’t quite capture it. Furthermore, in a 2021 Marist Poll, when asked, “In a typical year, how often do you visit any of the racetracks in NYS for the purpose of betting on horse races held within the state,” 91% of NY adults said “never”; 5% said “once”; 1% said “twice”; and only 3% said “more than two times in a typical year.” Again, only 3% of New Yorkers visit a track more than twice a year, and it’s not for lack of opportunities: NY has about 1,200 racedays/year.

There are two primary reasons for the above: First, there is far more competition today: expanded lottery, casinos, and now, mobile sports-betting (MSB) – that’s betting on real sports played by autonomous human beings. On that, in its first year of existence (Jan ’22-Jan ’23), MSB generated over $16 billion in handle, dwarfing the $2.3 billion recently reported, and celebrated, by NYRA. Crucially, however, the MSB companies (FanDuel, DraftKings, et al.) pay 51% tax on wagers; in 2019, the last pre-covid year for which we have data, horseracing paid a microscopic 1.3%. So, this past year, MSB sent $709 million in handle tax to the state; horseracing (that’s all 11 tracks) sends in roughly $10 million a year. But, of course, it’s far worse, with Racing receiving $230M in subsidies – an annual net drain on NYS of $220 million. Insane.

But just as important, sensibilities regarding animal exploitation are simply different – more evolved – today, most especially among the younger generations. Why, they ask, should we bet on fully sentient beings who are being whipped to run and who often die in the process when we can just as easily – and more to the point, harmlessly – bet on basketball or visit a casino? So dream all you want, NYRA. Those fans aren’t coming back, no matter how many millions – in, I remind, taxpayer money – you sink in the place. You’ve lost that battle. Now, about that welfare spigot.

20 Comments

  1. Their desperate clawing to hold onto their empty tracks has nothing to do with the love of the animal or preserving tradition, it’s because these parasites have been living off the blood of horses for so long they wouldn’t have a clue how to function in the real world, where there are repercussions for blatant sadistic abuse and torture of sentient beings and your continued existence as an industry is directly related to the money YOU make, not the money you suck off the government.

  2. Just say “NO!” to: 1) drugs, 2) horseracing, and 3) Corporate WELFARE to Horseracing, especially now to the New York Racing Association and the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and all other individuals and organizations spending all this money (most likely part of the government subsidies already received) to come up with a presentation and a campaign to make something that is SOCIALLY UNACCEPTABLE TO THE MAINSTREAM PUBLIC appear to be a “good thing” as if this horse-abusing, horse-doping, horse-killing enterprise could ever be a good thing. The NYRA (& company) is a cesspool of animal CRUELTY and causing harm to the point of death of “their beloved” horses AND a cesspool of ORGANIZED CRIMINAL ACTIVITY that dupes the betting public as well as the other uninformed people who pay taxes to prop up these CRIMES against horses and our society.
    This subculture of organized criminal activity must be TERMINATED FROM ALL GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIES AND GOVERNMENT-DIRECTED BENEFITS INCLUDING tax write-offs. These organizations of criminality must be held accountable to the laws and regulations of the land. The “discretionary powers” given to the Racing Commissions must be taken away from these crime-infested groups.

    #ENDHORSERACINGNOW
    #HorseracingIsAnimalCruelty

  3. My question is why is New York State subsidizing this failing industry? Don’t the legislators crunch the numbers? They decide what to spend money on, so why are they willing to throw good money after bad? It makes no sense to me.

    • They do crunch the numbers. How much will the racing industry give to my campaign? Legalized corruption.

      • EXACTLY. It’s all about re-election. Just wondering how much money some very wealthy multi billionaires involved in ny racing …ie Mike Repole(example) ,and others,give in donations to keep this futile atrocities (for the horses) going? Just sayin. We are BETTER than this. I know in the depths of my heart we are. The politicians don’t want to have to go out and enter the workforce. That’s a long about way Teresa of answering your question.

        • Thank you. I should have figured if anything has to do with politicians, there is money involved.

        • The owners, trainers, breeders, are wealthy with political clout! The riders wealthy, but no political clout!

  4. QUID PRO QUO.
    Politicians approve the millions to horse racing and horse racing returns the favor in the form of generous political contributions to the politicians who handed it out.
    It’s a gravy train for a small group of powerful people who make everbody else pay for it.
    Of course the biggest payees and total losers in this entire scenario are the racehorses.

    • WW-1 vets, tore down the wooden grandstands, built the modern racing plants, then the WW-2 vets, wanted to know what was going to win! The younger people are more educated, not gonna give a horse their money! Only Gulfstream left in Florida? Where the game still exists, probably has to be propped up, or Racinos!

  5. The NYRA who runs Belmont has just announced additional financial incentives.
    $1000 to any owner and $1000 to their respective trainer for shipping in to run a baby – that’s a 2 y.o racehorse who has not been fully developed.
    Oh, and they will pay their shipping costs as long as the baby runs!
    Like I said, we will be paying for their underwear next!

    • Like I said earlier, owners, trainers, breeders, wealthy with political clout! Riders wealthy, with no clout! An uphill battle!

      • The “game” is being propped up by the taxpaying public through government subsidies and government-directed benefits including tax write-offs to wealthy owners of horses that they exploit for racing, wagering, breeding and shipping to slaughterhouses.
        The subsidies and tax-breaks to the horse-abusing, horse-doping, horse-killing racing “game” need to be stopped and redirected to public education and essential services for the public good.
        The rich are rich enough that they don’t need to continue to receive the public funds.
        Stop the Corporate Welfare handouts to the NYRA and the HBPA.

        • The players of old who’s bets built the modern racing plants, are too old, or have passed on! Florida, only Gulfstream is left, Calder became a casino! Dog tracks are finally gone, maybe those players are still around, but on the ballot, voters ousted them!

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