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New york city off-track betting corporation inc

The original plan was that OTB would make certain specified payments to the state, to the New York Racing Association which runs the tracks , to several upstate cities and a few other minor claimants, and then, after taking care of its own operating expenses, turn over the "residual revenue" to the city. An additional wrinkle, added during the city's fiscal crisis, was the 5 percent surcharge, whose entire proceeds would also go to the city. It was all fantasy. The organization's long-run decline leaves one unable to exclude a possibility once mentioned by Edward V.

At both the state and city levels, the political establishment speaks publicly of OTB with ill-disguised contempt. Its mission is to operate the state's three Thoroughbred race tracks: Aqueduct during cold weather, Belmont Park during most of the warm-weather months, Saratoga for several summer weeks.

NYRA is a not-for-profit corporation, but it is not supposed to lose money, and in recent years its operating losses have mounted as track attendance declined. Twenty years ago Aqueduct would get a minimum of 12, hardened horse-players even on a snow-blown day in February, and Belmont Park would get overflow crowds of 70, on Belmont Stakes day in June. The comparable figures today are perhaps 3, and 40, NYRA executives blame the losses on competition from lotteries, casinos, and the Meadowlands race track in New Jersey, on excessive New York State tax rates the state takes around 5 percent of all bets at the track , on politicians who force Aqueduct to stay open all winter and run races in front of near-empty grandstands to keep those tax dollars flowing—and, of course, on OTB.

NYRA sees the off-track competition as unfair and unnatural. The racing association, after all, creates the product; why should this interloper sell it, in the process taking the lion's share of the betting revenues? Steve Crist, once a racing writer for the New York Times and now marketing director for NYRA, asks: "Is there any other business where the producers and retailers are competitors?

Anticipating some shrinkage in on-track activity, the original law establishing OTB-incorporated formulas requiring that it pass revenue from various kinds of bets to NYRA. No longer having any hope that OTB will just go away, NYRA people now hope to take over the organization—and have some prospects of success. S hould the city continue to run OTB? The answer seems obvious: of course not.

If not the city, then who? Here the answer is less obvious, but I shall argue that the best bet is private operators plural. I take it as a given that legal off-track betting in New York should continue to exist in some form, as preferable to illegal betting. The case against the city as OTB proprietor seems overwhelming.

For 25 years, under five mayors counting Giuliani's first year , the agency has been badly run. The bad-management experience has not always been quite the same. The prior regime, headed by civil rights activist Hazel Dukes, was marked by horrifying racial tensions and left OTB with multiple, still-unresolved lawsuits by senior executives claiming they had been forced out of their jobs because of their race white.

But certain other themes seem to recur in every administration. Begin with the fact that successive mayors have used OTB as a patronage vehicle for supporters. I am far from sure that Mayor Giuliani is now doing the same thing, but some reporters and City Council staff people clearly believe it is happening; they argue that patronage is the most parsimonious explanation for his curious reluctance to move toward privatization, despite much pro-privatization campaign rhetoric.

This script didn't last long, though; it was replaced by one in which the mayor has given OTB yet another opportunity to turn itself around and get profitable—after which it will get sold. W hy rebuild OTB if you are planning to sell it? The standard answer given by the city—for example, by Richard J. Schwartz, Giuliani's chief adviser on privatization issues—is that no outside bidder would pay a decent price for the organization while it is losing money.

Three years ago, when OTB's residual revenues had begun turning negative, the city commissioned a study by the Morgan Stanley investment banking firm on the organization's market value, hoping it would turn out to be several hundred million. Instead, the study characterized OTB as a "distressed entity" and said it should not be sold at all until it had been made healthy.

The standard response to those embracing this strategy is that a there is no reason to believe that OTB will ever have roses in its cheeks while the city runs it and b if by some miracle it did begin to look healthy, the pressure to privatize would instantly vanish. Sherman was brought in on the advice of OTB chairman David Cornstein, chairman of a privately held national jewelry store chain. The OTB chairman presides at monthly board meetings but is not himself an executive of the corporation.

I spoke to both of them recently and came away with several impressions. One is that they believe they are under no particular time pressure from the state or city. Another is that they need a fair amount of time to create the kind of organization they envision. They are looking toward an OTB in which more and more customers can phone in bets and see races live on television.

They also wish to promote viewing of live races at huge teletheaters. Clearly it will be years before this glitzy new OTB can possibly replace today's drab world of betting parlors. Meanwhile, one has a powerful sense that nothing is happening to shake up the OTB culture that has thwarted all past efforts at reform.

O ver the years, the eternal obstacle to efficient management of the agency has been its high labor costs, dependably around 75 percent of total costs. For openers, OTB has a lot of managers. A study done in by the City Council's Finance Committee noted an incredible manager-to-employee ratio of 1 to 3, compared with typical private-sector ratios of 1 to 7.

A casual newspaper reader of countless stories over the years about OTB downsizing and betting-parlor closings could be forgiven for thinking that labor costs must finally be under control. But it never happens. OTB employees belong to a powerful municipal union, District Council 37, which has a tough, tough contract. OTB employees work five days a week, yet if one of those days falls on a weekend, they collect time-and-a-half pay for working Saturday and double time for Sunday.

Last winter, with OTB losing money and closing down still more betting parlors, the union did not budge on these arrangements, so recently management has simply been closing 30 parlors on Sundays. Because OTB employees like all city employees are hard to fire, substantial buyouts generally accompany downsizing. That figure has increased six-fold since OTB's beginnings, while the consumer price index rose about fourfold. It is reasonable to suppose that Giuliani's team will work harder than its predecessors to extract concessions from OTB's labor leaders, but it plainly has a way to go.

OTB is sensitive about its labor costs, since so many critics keep noting that the agency, established mainly as a vehicle for steering millions to New York City, steers so much more to its own employees. A somewhat hilarious gauge of the sensitivity about labor costs appears in OTB's annual reports, which feature double-page bar charts breaking down the handle's disposition during each of the past ten years: so much was returned to bettors, so much went to NYRA, to the city, to personnel costs, and so on.

Now here is the hilarious part. When I looked at the bars in the latest annual report—for the year ending June , since OTB is not too swift at getting out reports—I was struck by an impression that the critics must be wrong: the purple segment showing payments to New York City was at least as long as the yellow segment for personnel. A ruler confirmed this impression: the segment for the city was 2 centimeters, personnel only 1. It was only when I looked at the accompanying figures that I realized that the lengths of the two segments did not correspond to the amounts they were representing.

Or don't you think that's funny? A nother tale from the front lines. It is January 2, , around noon. I am home betting the card at Aqueduct—that is, making some kind of bet on all nine races. The OTB telephone operator takes my account number and password, mentions the opening balance in my account, accepts all my bets, and tells me the total amount I have wagered and the closing balance in the account.

I hang up and prepare to rush off, planning to watch the races that evening on cable TV's nightly screening of all the day's races. Just as I am leaving the apartment, I have a sudden queasy feeling about the final figures passed along by the OTB operator. Maybe this means merely that I was confused about my opening balance, but maybe—ominous thought—it means that some of my bets were not properly entered into the OTB computer.

I call OTB back and talk to another operator, who patiently calls up my bets on his screen. Everything seems in order until we get to the ninth race. A triple is a bet where you try to identify the first three horses to cross the finish line, in order. This is undoable via any known logical process, so most bettors, including me, buy triple "boxes," in which you are covered for all six combinations of the three horses to win, place, and show.

Nevertheless, over the next several years off-track betting bills died in committee or were defeated by the legislature. All the while, city officials prepared to create a corporation to run the off-track betting operations and as early as were envisioning a computerized wagering system. City-backed legislation was passed permitting the creation of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation, a public-benefit corporation to be run by a board of directors to be appointed by the mayor.

The OTB takeout would be 17 percent, with. In an attempt to lessen the impact on the tracks, OTB facilities were mandated to be uncomfortable: no food, no drink, no chairs, no bathrooms. The racing industry, taking no solace in the knowledge that OTB patrons would be made to suffer, was still outraged by the development and turned to the courts to have OTB declared unconstitutional, an effort that ultimately failed. A long-term conflict between OTB and the industry ensued, resulting, at the best of times, in an uneasy coexistence.

Labor unions representing track employees were also hostile to the new venture, afraid that a long-term slide in track attendance would only be aggravated by OTB and cost them jobs. Samuels had considerable business experience, having co-founded Kordite Company, best known for the creation of Baggies. Samuels made several million dollars when the company was sold to Mobil Oil. Other patrons, lacking the privileges of rank, waited in line as long as two hours to place their bets.

Moveover, it was evident that the slips could easily be altered to create winning tickets. It remained a controversial venture, however, with its computer system proving to be slow and unreliable and attendance at local tracks falling, thereby cutting into the takeout of both the state and tracks. Parimutuel clerks went on strike at Aqueduct to protest job cuts that the tracks attributed to the loss of patrons cause by OTB. Critics also contended that OTB was trying to dress the books.

Samuels attempted to negotiate with NYRA and the harness tracks about a more equitable split in the OTB takeout, and it appeared that the two sides were on the verge of an agreement. Samuels vowed to fight the obvious attempt to take over OTB, suggesting that the tracks would be better served by cooperating with OTB in order to stimulate bettor interest, especially by permitting televised races. During his tenure as the head of OTB, Samuels was able to fend off attempts to gain control of the organization.

He was unsuccessful, however, in expanding the scope of the corporation to include the taking of bets on other sporting events, such as football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. Despite the disappointment of declining profits, the city continued to collect its 5 percent share of the takeout. OTB received mounting criticism over the years: its parlors were shabby, technology antiquated, management inept, and work force inefficient. Like so many city institutions, it had become a source for political patronage, providing high-paying, high-sounding, do-little jobs to supporters.

OTB attempted to improve its finances by upgrading its product to spur revenues. Live calls from the race tracks were piped into OTB parlors. These changes did little to offset increased competition over gaming dollars from the state lottery and casinos in Atlantic City and on the lands of Native Americans. Illegal bookmaking operations, featuring satellite-televised races and comfortable accommodations, as well as credit, were also flourishing in the city.

Moreover, the demographics of the typical OTB bettor were troubling. A survey conducted in indicated that almost 70 percent of patrons were over 45 years old. Although mayoral candidate Guiliani vowed to sell OTB to private interests, after his election he allowed the corporation a chance to redeem itself. A first step was to simply clean the OTB parlors, which were notoriously dingy and marred by graffiti.

OTB outlets featuring simulcasts were added to several restaurant locations in Although it appeared that the simulcasts mutually benefited OTB and NYRA, especially in light of the rise of Internet wagering on horse races, the two sides soon fell out over the arrangement. NYRA blamed in-home signals for a significant drop in track attendance, which OTB officials pointed out was a nationwide trend unconnected to the telecasts. In July , NYRA pulled the plug on the home telecasts, followed in October by cutting off the feed to OTB parlors and teletheaters as well as affiliated bars and restaurants.

The impasse was not settled until November when the parties finally agreed on a four-year contract. As he entered the final year of his administration, unable to run again because of imposed term limits, Mayor Guiliani sought to fulfill a long-term pledge to sell the enterprise to commercial interests, while retaining a minority interest for the city. The sale faced several obstacles, including a lawsuit from labor unions representing 1, OTB employees, which maintained that the city had not properly evaluated the impact of the sale on city employees as required by law.

Any deal would also require approval from the state legislature, which was far from certain. In addition, both suitors for OTB were under somewhat of an ethical cloud. Critics claimed that the sale was shortsighted, and opponents, which included NYRA and the OTB union, vowed to stop the transaction in the state legislature. In the meantime, OTB continued to conduct its wagering business and implemented measures to broaden its appeal to a wider and younger audience.

Clines, Francis X. Unger, Howard Z. Viuker, Steven J. Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. January 12, Retrieved January 12, from Encyclopedia. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list. Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia. International Directory of Company Histories.

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Three years ago, when OTB's residual revenues had begun turning negative, the city commissioned a study by the Morgan Stanley investment banking firm on the organization's market value, hoping it would turn out to be several hundred million. Instead, the study characterized OTB as a "distressed entity" and said it should not be sold at all until it had been made healthy.

The standard response to those embracing this strategy is that a there is no reason to believe that OTB will ever have roses in its cheeks while the city runs it and b if by some miracle it did begin to look healthy, the pressure to privatize would instantly vanish. Sherman was brought in on the advice of OTB chairman David Cornstein, chairman of a privately held national jewelry store chain.

The OTB chairman presides at monthly board meetings but is not himself an executive of the corporation. I spoke to both of them recently and came away with several impressions. One is that they believe they are under no particular time pressure from the state or city. Another is that they need a fair amount of time to create the kind of organization they envision.

They are looking toward an OTB in which more and more customers can phone in bets and see races live on television. They also wish to promote viewing of live races at huge teletheaters. Clearly it will be years before this glitzy new OTB can possibly replace today's drab world of betting parlors.

Meanwhile, one has a powerful sense that nothing is happening to shake up the OTB culture that has thwarted all past efforts at reform. O ver the years, the eternal obstacle to efficient management of the agency has been its high labor costs, dependably around 75 percent of total costs. For openers, OTB has a lot of managers. A study done in by the City Council's Finance Committee noted an incredible manager-to-employee ratio of 1 to 3, compared with typical private-sector ratios of 1 to 7.

A casual newspaper reader of countless stories over the years about OTB downsizing and betting-parlor closings could be forgiven for thinking that labor costs must finally be under control. But it never happens. OTB employees belong to a powerful municipal union, District Council 37, which has a tough, tough contract. OTB employees work five days a week, yet if one of those days falls on a weekend, they collect time-and-a-half pay for working Saturday and double time for Sunday.

Last winter, with OTB losing money and closing down still more betting parlors, the union did not budge on these arrangements, so recently management has simply been closing 30 parlors on Sundays. Because OTB employees like all city employees are hard to fire, substantial buyouts generally accompany downsizing. That figure has increased six-fold since OTB's beginnings, while the consumer price index rose about fourfold. It is reasonable to suppose that Giuliani's team will work harder than its predecessors to extract concessions from OTB's labor leaders, but it plainly has a way to go.

OTB is sensitive about its labor costs, since so many critics keep noting that the agency, established mainly as a vehicle for steering millions to New York City, steers so much more to its own employees. A somewhat hilarious gauge of the sensitivity about labor costs appears in OTB's annual reports, which feature double-page bar charts breaking down the handle's disposition during each of the past ten years: so much was returned to bettors, so much went to NYRA, to the city, to personnel costs, and so on.

Now here is the hilarious part. When I looked at the bars in the latest annual report—for the year ending June , since OTB is not too swift at getting out reports—I was struck by an impression that the critics must be wrong: the purple segment showing payments to New York City was at least as long as the yellow segment for personnel.

A ruler confirmed this impression: the segment for the city was 2 centimeters, personnel only 1. It was only when I looked at the accompanying figures that I realized that the lengths of the two segments did not correspond to the amounts they were representing. Or don't you think that's funny? A nother tale from the front lines. It is January 2, , around noon. I am home betting the card at Aqueduct—that is, making some kind of bet on all nine races.

The OTB telephone operator takes my account number and password, mentions the opening balance in my account, accepts all my bets, and tells me the total amount I have wagered and the closing balance in the account. I hang up and prepare to rush off, planning to watch the races that evening on cable TV's nightly screening of all the day's races. Just as I am leaving the apartment, I have a sudden queasy feeling about the final figures passed along by the OTB operator.

Maybe this means merely that I was confused about my opening balance, but maybe—ominous thought—it means that some of my bets were not properly entered into the OTB computer. I call OTB back and talk to another operator, who patiently calls up my bets on his screen. Everything seems in order until we get to the ninth race. A triple is a bet where you try to identify the first three horses to cross the finish line, in order. This is undoable via any known logical process, so most bettors, including me, buy triple "boxes," in which you are covered for all six combinations of the three horses to win, place, and show.

As Giuliani repeatedly stated during his campaign, and as his press spokesmen still agree when asked, New York City does not belong in the off-track betting business. It should announce plans to get out soon and put OTB up for bids by private operators. Any such auction would require permission from Albany, but it is hard to see the state resisting the city on bookmaker privatization, which even Mario Cuomo has endorsed. In past discussions of possible OTB acquirers, two names have frequently surfaced: NYRA and Ladbroke, the British bookmaking firm, which is trying to establish a presence in the United States it operates tracks in several states and runs an off-track betting operation in connection with one of them, outside Pittsburgh.

The state and city rejected the proposition, but NYRA would surely be among the bidders in any serious privatization process. It already competes with OTB in offering telephone betting. Indeed, there is no good reason for privatization to result in only one private operator. OTB has many different kinds of customers, and surely something on the British model—where betting shops have different and competing owners, with different strategies for attracting customers—would also work in New York City.

The privatized betting operators would presumably be regulated by the state, as legal gambling is everywhere, and would presumably pay their share of state and city income taxes. N obody today can gauge the extent to which privatized off-track betting would grow and flourish. Some analysts—including the New York State Senate Advisory Commission on Privatization the Lauder Commission —think it probably would generate increased revenues for the state and the city.

Here, however, we come to a depressing detail—or at least one that has to be rated bad news by any OTB customers following the privatization argument. The news is that everybody involved in the argument, the Lauder Commission included, takes it for granted that a privatized OTB would retain the basic mission of the existing organization: it would still be designed to maximize government revenues and extract every possible nickel out of the horseplayers.

It would presumably be much more user-friendly than the existing OTB; however, the surcharge would remain in place, as a major conduit steering money from players' pockets to city coffers. The budget released by Giuliani's team in February shows OTB to be increasingly profitable in the late nineties, when it is presumably privatized.

It is easy to understand why the city would not wish to give up a cash cow like the surcharge. Still, it seems surprising that nobody is focusing on another aspect of the case: an OTB that maximizes city income and hits its customers with an odious tax is an OTB that will fetch far less in the open market, because the surcharge drives away potential customers.

John Long, who heads Ladbroke's American operations, has said firmly and repeatedly that he would not be interested in bidding on OTB in its present form; he specifically mentions the surcharge when asked why the existing organization looks so unappealing. So the city might do well or better selling off OTB to operators unencumbered by the surcharge. Possibly the time has come to enter the customers' well-being into the equation.

If that sounds like consumer advocacy, so be it. Send a question or comment using the form below. This message may be routed through support staff. More detailed message would go here to provide context for the user and how to proceed. City Journal search. City Journal is a publication of Manhattan Institute. Search search. Experts Hea ther Mac Donald. Topics Hea lth Care. Close Nav Search Close Search search. Are you interested in supporting the magazine?

Early in the twentieth century, the horse racing was briefly banned in New York state, but this prohibition did little to suppress gambling. While some began advocating for the legalization of off-track betting, arguing that people would always feel compelled to wager, before the s it remained a challenging position to hold for politicians.

In , for instance, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia denounced the idea in one of his weekly radio addresses, maintaining that off-track betting would pave the way for legalized roulette, faro, dice, and other gambling. Starting in the s, New York City mayors began to actively lobby for an off-track betting operation that could benefit the city coffers, which were beginning to increasingly feel a financial strain.

Not only would the city not have to ask for more state funding, they argued, off-track betting would drive out illegal bookmakers and decrease the burden on the police. The battle lines for off-track betting were essentially drawn between city Democrats and upstate Republicans. Also involved were a pair of unlikely allies: church groups opposed to gambling and the race tracks opposed to giving up a share of the takeout.

The tracks simply did not believe that off-track betting would increase the betting market, as advocates argued. In , Mayor Robert Wagner placed an off-track betting referendum question on the ballot for city voters. Nevertheless, over the next several years off-track betting bills died in committee or were defeated by the legislature.

All the while, city officials prepared to create a corporation to run the off-track betting operations and as early as were envisioning a computerized wagering system. City-backed legislation was passed permitting the creation of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation, a public-benefit corporation to be run by a board of directors to be appointed by the mayor.

The OTB takeout would be 17 percent, with. In an attempt to lessen the impact on the tracks, OTB facilities were mandated to be uncomfortable: no food, no drink, no chairs, no bathrooms. The racing industry, taking no solace in the knowledge that OTB patrons would be made to suffer, was still outraged by the development and turned to the courts to have OTB declared unconstitutional, an effort that ultimately failed.

A long-term conflict between OTB and the industry ensued, resulting, at the best of times, in an uneasy coexistence. Labor unions representing track employees were also hostile to the new venture, afraid that a long-term slide in track attendance would only be aggravated by OTB and cost them jobs. Samuels had considerable business experience, having co-founded Kordite Company, best known for the creation of Baggies.

Samuels made several million dollars when the company was sold to Mobil Oil. Other patrons, lacking the privileges of rank, waited in line as long as two hours to place their bets. Moveover, it was evident that the slips could easily be altered to create winning tickets.

It remained a controversial venture, however, with its computer system proving to be slow and unreliable and attendance at local tracks falling, thereby cutting into the takeout of both the state and tracks. Parimutuel clerks went on strike at Aqueduct to protest job cuts that the tracks attributed to the loss of patrons cause by OTB. Critics also contended that OTB was trying to dress the books. Samuels attempted to negotiate with NYRA and the harness tracks about a more equitable split in the OTB takeout, and it appeared that the two sides were on the verge of an agreement.

Samuels vowed to fight the obvious attempt to take over OTB, suggesting that the tracks would be better served by cooperating with OTB in order to stimulate bettor interest, especially by permitting televised races. During his tenure as the head of OTB, Samuels was able to fend off attempts to gain control of the organization. He was unsuccessful, however, in expanding the scope of the corporation to include the taking of bets on other sporting events, such as football, baseball, basketball, and hockey.

Despite the disappointment of declining profits, the city continued to collect its 5 percent share of the takeout. OTB received mounting criticism over the years: its parlors were shabby, technology antiquated, management inept, and work force inefficient.

Like so many city institutions, it had become a source for political patronage, providing high-paying, high-sounding, do-little jobs to supporters. OTB attempted to improve its finances by upgrading its product to spur revenues.

Live calls from the race tracks were piped into OTB parlors. These changes did little to offset increased competition over gaming dollars from the state lottery and casinos in Atlantic City and on the lands of Native Americans. Illegal bookmaking operations, featuring satellite-televised races and comfortable accommodations, as well as credit, were also flourishing in the city.

Moreover, the demographics of the typical OTB bettor were troubling. A survey conducted in indicated that almost 70 percent of patrons were over 45 years old. Although mayoral candidate Guiliani vowed to sell OTB to private interests, after his election he allowed the corporation a chance to redeem itself. A first step was to simply clean the OTB parlors, which were notoriously dingy and marred by graffiti.

OTB outlets featuring simulcasts were added to several restaurant locations in Although it appeared that the simulcasts mutually benefited OTB and NYRA, especially in light of the rise of Internet wagering on horse races, the two sides soon fell out over the arrangement.

NYRA blamed in-home signals for a significant drop in track attendance, which OTB officials pointed out was a nationwide trend unconnected to the telecasts. In July , NYRA pulled the plug on the home telecasts, followed in October by cutting off the feed to OTB parlors and teletheaters as well as affiliated bars and restaurants.

The impasse was not settled until November when the parties finally agreed on a four-year contract. As he entered the final year of his administration, unable to run again because of imposed term limits, Mayor Guiliani sought to fulfill a long-term pledge to sell the enterprise to commercial interests, while retaining a minority interest for the city.

The sale faced several obstacles, including a lawsuit from labor unions representing 1, OTB employees, which maintained that the city had not properly evaluated the impact of the sale on city employees as required by law. Any deal would also require approval from the state legislature, which was far from certain. In addition, both suitors for OTB were under somewhat of an ethical cloud. Critics claimed that the sale was shortsighted, and opponents, which included NYRA and the OTB union, vowed to stop the transaction in the state legislature.

In the meantime, OTB continued to conduct its wagering business and implemented measures to broaden its appeal to a wider and younger audience. Clines, Francis X. Unger, Howard Z.

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