Earlier this month, in his State of the State speech, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined a proposal to create the country’s largest convention center at Aqueduct Racetrack. Home to the Resorts World Casino, which opened in late October, the property is already generating an average of $10 million a week in net win (reaching nearly $13 million during the holiday period). But Cuomo is eying more, as is Resorts World operator Genting.
The Malaysian-based company is willing to spring for the $4 billion development, which would create a 3.8 million square foot convention center, generate tens of thousands of jobs and create new economic activity throughout the state. But in return, it would expect to introduce table games at the facility and add a significant number of gaming machines. And by the way, those new machines would be taxed at a lower rate than its existing machines (5,000 are currently in place). That might not sit well with the other racetrack gaming operators around the state.
And what about racing? To many, Aqueduct was a cold, dreary place with little to show for itself before the casino opened. And to many, it’s still a cold, dreary place where horses race from October to April; there just happens to be a casino on the property. But for many reasons, Aqueduct means a lot to the Thoroughbred racing industry in New York, even if it doesn’t have the rich history of other tracks (the current property opened in 1959, compared to 1905 for Belmont Park and 1864 for Saratoga Race Course).
Major questions need to be answered. It is possible that racing could go on and even be considered an added amenity for convention-goers if done correctly. Or the racetrack could be shuttered and winter racing, if still deemed desirable, could shift to Belmont Park. But that facility would need extensive renovations to accommodate winter racing.
Meanwhile, Cuomo included another detail in his budget plan released yesterday. He proposes to combine the existing State Racing and Wagering Board (which oversees horse racing and OTB, tribal and charitable gaming) with the Lottery to create a new state gaming commission. It’s my personal opinion that despite New York’s bureaucratic history, this is a good thing. It would probably be a good thing in most jurisdictions, so that decisions affecting multiple industry participants aren’t made in isolation, as they often are. If a New York Gaming Commission can live up to the promise in the proposed legislation – that an integrated commission can provide the “responsive, effective, innovative, state gaming regulation...necessary to operate in a global, evolving and increasingly competitive market place” – then that is a definitely a good thing.
In the U.S., horse racing regulatory boards have generally been operated in isolation, with notable exceptions such as the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering and the Connecticut Division of Special Revenue. Many lotteries have evolved into broader lottery and gaming operations, and around the world you are more likely to find integrated agencies. Just last fall, British Columbia eliminated its racing commission, transferring the administration of horse racing to the British Columbia Lottery Corp. (BCLC), which now has responsibility for all gaming in that province.
Previously in B.C., five agencies were involved in gaming – BCLC, the Racing Commission, the Gaming Policy Secretariat, the Gaming Commission and Gaming Audit and Investigation Office. There are now just two – BCLC and the gaming policy and enforcement division under the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. By eliminating duplication and levels of bureaucracy, decisions can be made much more quickly and responsibly – a distinct advantage in this day and age.