By T. D. Thornton
Live streaming Internet video of horse races in New York will continue in 2016, even though the management of Buffalo Raceway was the lone holdout in signing a mutual consent agreement among the state's 14 Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and off-track-betting licensees.
Lee Park, the director of communications for the New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC), confirmed in a Tuesday email that the streaming agreement was in place for next year.
Jim Mango, Buffalo Raceway's chief operating officer, told TDN that he held off on signing based on “principle.”
His chief concern, Mango said, was that the original intent of the agreement protected Buffalo Raceway against the threat of competing advance-deposit wagering (ADW) companies streaming races to online customers within his track's geographic area. In his interpretation, Mango said, the protection against this form of competitive disadvantage is no longer happening.
Mango underscored that he is not against the concept of steaming ADW video per se, but that he would like Buffalo Raceway to be able to negotiate compensation from competitors, such as nearby Western Regional OTB, that stream video to potential or former Buffalo Raceway customers.
Buffalo Raceway shares a fairgrounds property in the town of Hamburg with a Delaware North casino licensee that operates 900 gaming machines. Mango said Buffalo Raceway cannot afford its own ADW portal to stream live video.
“The reality of this thing is, Buffalo Raceway's simulcast operation on the ground is getting slaughtered,” Mango said. “It's been happening for a whole lot of reasons other than live streaming video. But live streaming video is a big one. We are the little guy. We have the most consequences in this region when it comes to live streaming video.”
But, according to a new amendment of the agreement, Mango's stand on principle will be a moot point because a change to the 2016 document sent out by the NYSGC mandates that it will still be binding for all parties “notwithstanding that any party declines to sign” the amendment.
“Either way, me signing it or not, I think the situation is the same,” said Mango.
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.
“The whole point is to have a single agreement instead of multiple agreements between NY-based tracks, OTBs, etc…” Park explained in an email.
Mango said in a separate interview earlier this month that his track initially signed off on this type of arrangement in 2010 and for subsequent annual renewals. But 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.
Batavia Downs and Buffalo Raceway currently split the annual calendar in that region for live harness racing (Buffalo runs Jan.-July; Batavia runs July-Dec.). But when Batavia is open “I don't receive one nickel of revenue, and my business on-track has been reduced dramatically,” Mango told TDN Dec. 8.
In light of this relevantly new form of competition, Mango said he wanted to revisit the live streaming video agreement. Mango said he requested, and was granted, a meeting with NYSGC officials to talk about why he was holding off on signing the 2016 amended agreement.
“I was given the opportunity to meet with the gaming commission last week to discuss my concerns, for which I am grateful,” Mango said Tuesday. “It was my sincere hope that the new interpretation of the law, if any, would give Buffalo Raceway the regional protection that I believe was originally intended in the law and seemingly acknowledged by the language in the original live streaming video agreement that was signed by all parties from 2010 through 2014.”
But even after the meeting, Buffalo Raceway and the NYSGC still had different interpretations of the law.
“I understand that the NYSGC has a difficult job to do administering over the many license holders, each of which has their own regional concerns. Buffalo Raceway will certainly respect the decisions made; however, the [new] amendment is definitely a 'win' for Western Region OTB at Buffalo Raceway's expense…I thought that we should be able to negotiate this in our region. [The way] I interpreted the original law, I was entitled to a negotiation here. [The NYSGC] has a different interpretation now.”
Park clarified in a series of emails that statewide streaming of live races would continue uninterrupted. This includes the streaming of Buffalo Raceway's races that go through another licensee's ADW portal.
The only manner in which not signing the streaming agreement affects Buffalo Raceway, Park explained, is that the track cannot “in-home simulcast, which it does not do anyway” and “if the track wanted to in the future it would now not be allowed. Buffalo Raceway can still export its signal, as those are part of simulcasting agreements.”
Mango reiterated that it was never his intent by not signing the agreement to halt online streaming of races in New York.
“I am pleased for the tracks and patrons that live streaming video will not be interrupted in the state for any period of time,” Mango said.