By Bill Finley
NYRA President and CEO David O’Rourke and New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association President Joe Appelbaum were among those who testified before a New York State senate hearing on sports betting, imploring politicians not to leave horse racing out of the equation when and if sports betting is legalized in the state.
Currently, Senate Bill 17A is the only bill that covers sports wagering in New York. It allows only for the state’s four stand-alone casinos to have sports betting and has no clear provisions that allow for sports betting to take place online. However, it is expected that an online wagering component will be added to the bill at some time, but, once again, only for the four casinos.
Neither O’Rourke nor Applebaum were overly concerned about the potential profit NYRA could make by offering sports betting. Instead, each felt that if racing were left out of the online sports betting market that would cause NYRA to lose customers from their ADW, NYRA Bets. O’Rourke told the committee that NYRA Bets is a perfect platform for sports betting because it can allow customers to place wagers on both racing and sports on one website. He also added how vital the success of NYRA Bets is to NYRA’s overall business.
“Our main point was to stress the need for racing, which is a wonderful complimentary product [to sports betting], to be involved and for us to be involved,” O’Rourke told the TDN. “Primarily, we need to maintain the connection with our customer. Over the last decade, we’ve seen the channels shift and what is driving business is our mobile betting website. If there is an intermediary in the middle, a middleman, I’m going to lose the connection with the customer in ways that go behind just the wager… If we are isolated and out on an island that would be very detrimental.”
As an example, O’Rourke cited New Jersey, where sports betting is available through various online and mobile platforms but where only one ADW, 4NJBets, takes wagers on horse racces.
“In New Jersey, there is only one ADW that offers horse racing,” he said. “On the other side of the aisle you have a plethora of online platforms to wager on sports. Since sports betting was launched in New Jersey, their ADW platform is down 10%.”
When asked if profits from sports betting would fuel purses if NYRA was included in Senate Bill 17A, O’Rourke said, “For one, I believe if we he had sports betting it would increase pari-mutuel handle on our races. As a not-for-profit, every dollar we earn we are putting right back into the business. If the pari-mutuel handle goes up some of that money would go directly to purses. We also have a long list–it would take hours to go over it–of things would do with the money to improve racing and our facilities, things like improvements to the backstretch.”
In summarizing his testimony to the TDN, Joe Appelbaum said:
“My message was three- or four-fold. One is that we greatly support NYRA and the current bets-taking structure to be included on a fair and level playing field; two, we think any system they design should be based on the customer, on the consumer experience; and three, I think there’s a lot of regulatory challenges that we’re well aware that we face every day and that I think people need to open their eyes to for these other sports.”
Appelbaum also stressed the importance of a measured, well-thought-out approach to sports betting legislation in the Empire State.
“[Committee chair Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr.] is an extremely thoughtful person,” he said. “I just think that the more you investigate and understand this market…for the last 60 years we’ve had one market of bricks and mortar only in one relatively small state. Now all of a sudden we’re having it proliferate in a number of states and everyone’s rushing to market and there’s really no first-mover advantage. If it takes New York a year or two to offer a better system, trust me, all the money will flow here. The money is liquid, it’s digital and it’s not going to stay in the states where the people reside. It’s going to flow to the best pricing and the best system.”
New York Thoroughbred Breeders, Inc. Executive Director Jeff Cannizzo also presented testimony at the hearing.