N.Y. Online Racing Streams at Risk

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Internet streaming of live Thoroughbred and Standardbred races from New York could be in jeopardy for 2016 if the management of Buffalo Raceway, a harness track in the northwest corner of the state, doesn't sign an annual agreement that requires mutual consent for streaming among all of the state's licensed tracks and off-track-betting venues.

Jim Mango, Buffalo Raceway's chief operating officer, told TDN on Tuesday that his track–which lacks the ability to take bets online or stream video of races–has been adversely affected by both regional OTBs and national advance-deposit wagering companies over the past several seasons.

Mango explained that despite the encroachment of online competition, he has signed off on the mutual streaming agreement in each of the past two years, but that he is now contemplating holding off on doing so for 2016 while he figures out what, if any, recourse Buffalo Raceway has to reverse the downward trend.

A major issue in the potential streaming standoff is whether the lack of a mutual agreement would mean that New York tracks and OTBs could not stream races only within the state, or if they would be prohibited from sending live Internet streams of races to ADWs nationwide.

“That's one of the major issues of confusion,” Mango said.

But Lee Park, the director of communications for the New York State Gaming Commission, underscored that it is the commission's interpretation that there is no confusion about streaming beyond New York's borders. “This agreement has no bearing whatsoever on out-of-state ADWs,” he wrote in an email.

Yet according to Mango's version of events, the NYSGC has changed the way the mutual consent agreement for streaming is interpreted by inserting an amendment that he just learned about on Tuesday afternoon.

“The amendment to the agreement has just reached my desk, of which I am not happy about, and I am preparing my respectful response to the New York State Gaming Commission,” Mango said. “It's an extremely complicated issue, as you might imagine, involving the interpretation of a law.”

Mango would not disclose details about the amendment or provide TDN with a copy of the document he said he received from the NYSGC.

When Park was asked to provide a copy of the document that Mango received, Park responded with an email that said, “We sent him [and all the other entities in NY] the agreement for 2016. Attached is the 2015 agreement, which is substantially similar.”

The collaborative streaming agreement among New York pari-mutuel licensees dates to December 2010, when New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. ceased operations. As a way to compensate for lost OTB revenue and to give state residents easy access to live racing on the Internet, an agreement was forged pursuant to Racing, Pari-Mutuel Wagering and Breeding Law sections 1003 and 1012.

Mango explained that at the time, the mutual agreement clause was inserted as a safeguard to keep New York tracks and OTBs from fighting over customers in overlapping regions.

But Mango said Buffalo Raceway's revenues began to decline precipitously in 2013 when Batavia Downs Gaming, which is 55 miles away and owned and operated by Western Regional OTB, built a bet-taking and race-streaming web portal.

The two tracks currently split the annual calendar in that region for live harness racing [Buffalo runs Jan. through mid-July; Batavia runs late July-Dec.]. But when Batavia is open “I don't receive one nickel of revenue, and my business ontrack has been reduced dramatically,” Mango said.

Michael D. Kane, the president of Western Region OTB, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. But according to the Buffalo News, Batavia Downs' website revenues are up by $1.3 million this year compared to 2014, an increase of 23 percent.

It also doesn't help business, Mango said, when “[New York Racing Association] opens accounts in my backyard and streams into it…I can't compete with Western Regional OTB, let alone [the] national {ADWs],” Mango said.

According to a Dec. 4 Buffalo News story that quoted Mango, Buffalo Raceway does not have a website to stream video or take bets because it can't afford one. In that same story, Mango said he told the NYSGC back in March that he wouldn't be signing the streaming agreement again, although he emphasized last spring that he would be open to suggestions that could provide some relief for his track.

“I wasn't being mean or nasty. I just said I want to go back to the drawing board. And that's where it is,” Mango said to TDN. “Apparently, the gaming commission has come out with a ruling that whatever their interpretation of the law was before is now being changed a little bit, and that's what I'm dealing with right now.”

Mango continued: “I'm not angry. I'm not fighting. I'm just trying to understand what I have in the law that protects Buffalo Raceway, [because] that is no longer happening. I'm hopeful that everything is going to be worked out, but I am going to respond to the latest decision.”

Park expressed similar optimism that the streaming situation would be resolved without disrupting signal streaming.

“The gaming commission continues to work with its licensees on this matter, as it has every year since 2010, and expects to bring it to a resolution in the very near future,” Park said via phone.

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