The board of the often troubled New York Racing Association has revealed reorganization efforts are putting the organization back in the black.
NYRA CEO Chris Kay reported to the Reorganization Board during a board meeting Wednesday with positive financial news for the struggling organization that oversees thoroughbred horse racing in New York.
The board that was put in place by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2012 was tasked with turning around the entity faced with declining attendance and a loss of revenue in recent years.
During the webcast meeting, Kay discussed steps taken so far to bring NYRA closer to reprivitazation. He first highlighted the improvements made to the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.
“Over the course of the past 16 months and through the investment of over $14 million in VLT funds designated for capital improvements, we have transformed the look and feel of the Aqueduct Racetrack. As a result the Big A now stands as a more modernized and safer racing facility.”
Kay mentioned the completion of the Longshots sports bar to help improve the guest experience at Aqueduct for the meet that began in late October. Facility improvements including new video screens were also made at Belmont and Saratoga.
Kay mentioned a few of the challenges facing the thoroughbred racing industry in New York and beyond including a declining foal count, closure of casinos, which are important venues for simulcasting, and increased competition with other forms of gambling.
However, Kay said despite these challenges, NYRA has bucked the national trend.
“A review of industry data for the first three quarters of 2014 shows that while wagering on thoroughbred races across the United States decreased by three percent, races at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga increased by one percent.”
Susanne Stover, NYRA Senior Vice President and CFO, said the organization is on track to turn a profit.
“We are currently forecasting the full year of 2014 to achieve a $1.5 million operating profit before VLT funds, which is an improvement over the $250,000 operating profit budgeted, and a dramatic improvement over the $12.9 million operating loss incurred in 2013.”
Stover said the industry-wide downturn, starting in August, will have an effect on the remainder of the year. However, she also mentioned a focus on lowering expenses, adding more special event days, entertainment, and Triple Crown potential boosted the season.
NYRA also raised admission, parking and simulcasting fees to gain revenue.
Board Chair David Skorton announced his departure, saying Wednesday’s board meeting would be the last he would chair.
“First thing I want to do is thank Governor Cuomo for giving me the opportunity to get involved in this very important part of the state’s economy and the life of our state. It’s been a privilege to work with the governor and his staff and administration. I want to thank the NYRA reorganization board. To say I had a lot to learn at the beginning would be putting it midly.”
Skorton, currently president of Cornell University, is leaving New York in 2015 to become Secretary of the Smithsonian in Washington.
At the meeting, the board also discussed the challenges with improving the reputation of U.S. thoroughbred racing on an international level, including dealing with drug use and doping.