Bookies Gone Broke

Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

L ast week, the state government authorized an emergency $25 million loan to the New York Racing Association—which operates the Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga tracks—to keep it from shutting down on June 9, four days after the Belmont Stakes. How does a business with a piece of a legal-gambling monopoly almost end up at the glue factory? Blame the economy, the fall of horse racing’s popularity, and being saddled with Albany’s patronage mentality.

The Decline Of Horse Racing

Total yearly attendance at NYRA tracks:

1987: 4.5 million

2009: 1.7 million

Total betting on horse racing in New York State, adjusted for inflation:

1987: $6.53 billion

2008*: $2.45 billion
*most recent year for which data is available

Uncooperative Horses

$3 million
Estimated extra money NYRA makes when the Belmont Stakes features a contender to win the Triple Crown (it’s the last of the three races).

The only time in the last six years that a horse (Big Brown) ran for the Crown.

OTB’s Bad Bet

NYRA gets about 10 percent of its revenue from New York City’s Off-Track Betting parlors— but OTB went bankrupt last December.

45 of 65
city OTB locations are closing

$252 million
NYRA’s projected revenue this year

$266 million
Projected expenses

$19 million
Amount NYRA says it’s owed by the NYC OTB

“The New York City OTB has never been an efficient business,” says Daily Racing Form publisher Steven Crist. “It’s a jobs program for politicians’ friends and relatives.” Last year, OTB employed 25 people who made over $100,000.

Aqueduct Slots: The Post-Horse Last Hope

$30 million
Estimated annual revenue that NYRA would take in by installing slot machines at the Aqueduct racetrack.

The Legislature approved the slots plan in 2001. Over the years, three operators have been selected; one defaulted, one was disqualified and the third abandoned the project after four years of delays. Construction has yet to begin.

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Bookies Gone Broke