OTB task force meeting minutes suggests state could meddle in Batavia Downs operations
A spokesman for the task force reviewing Off Track Betting operations in New York wrote to The Batavian yesterday to say:
With reference to the item on the Genesee County Legislature's opposition to a purported takeover of regional Off Track Betting corporations, I wish to assure your readers that the New York State Task Force on the Future of OTB has proposed nothing of the kind.
Joseph Mahoney, public information officer for the New York State Task Force on the Future of OTB was responding to an article The Batavian posted about the Genesee County Legislature passing a resolution opposing any state takeover of OTB, specifically, Batavia Downs.
By this time, Assemblyman Steven Hawley had been very clear that there has been no discussion in Albany of any such takeover.
What I find curious was the wording of Mr. Mahoney's message to The Batavian. He said there has been no proposal. That leaves unsaid, could there be a proposal?
So I wrote back to Mr. Mahoney and asked that and other specific questions such as, "Is there anything on the table that could, possibly, maybe reduce the amount of local control, control of the current operators?"
Mr. Mahoney's response: Visit our web site.
Well, among the first documents I open is the minutes from the group's first meeting, June 25, in which Chairman John Van Lindt is reported to say that topping the list of possible outcomes of the Task Force's work is "consolidation to achieve cost savings by efficiency of operations."
To me that sounds like centralization of OTBs, which logically implies a state takeover, don't you think?
In the next meeting, Aug. 2, Van Lindt made a motion that requires OTB's to have early termination clauses in any new contracts. That sounds like a prelude to centralizing administration.
Placed on the agenda for the next meeting: "Various options for continuation of OTBs in the state, e.g., joint venture with tracks, consolidate, privatize with or without consolidation, maintain status quo."
OK, so consolidation isn't the only option, but it's on the table.
At that meeting, Aug. 25, during public comment, Charles Hayward, president the New York Racing Association, includes a suggestion to consolidate operations and overhead "(accounting, marketing, insurance etc.)."
So, Mr. Mahoney is right: There is no proposal, at least in a formal sense, to consolidate OTB operations, but the idea certainly seems to be on people's minds.
Mahoney in his initial e-mail:
The goal of the Task Force members is a clear one: They wish to increase the level of revenue produced by OTB corporations -- especially to local governments.
But Mahoney never directly answered this question, and I think it's an important one for the task force to address: "With a successful operation like Batavia Downs, why should the state intervene at all? Shouldn't we assume the current operators know what they're doing and don't need outside intervention?"
Making bigger government entities is no way to increase efficiency or improve profits for the communities that host these operations.
The allegation by critics of the task force is that this is an opening for a revenue grab by the state fueled by the failures of downstate racing and OTB operations. The task force's own meeting minutes are not terribly reassuring that there isn't some truth to that concern.