Albany Times Union

Most state residents don’t go to a track to bet on horses: poll

NYRA says survey commission­ed by activists has “no basis in fact”

- By Emilie Munson

The vast majority of New Yorkers say in a typical year they never visit a race track in the state to bet on horse racing, according to a poll conducted this month by Marist College.

Marist surveyed 868 adults in New York in early August in a poll commission­ed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The results showed 91 percent of respondent­s said they never go to New York tracks to bet on horse racing in a typical year. Five percent of respondent­s said they go once a year, 1 percent said they go twice and 3 percent said they go more than twice.

The poll aligns with generally decreasing attendance at New York tracks and also more remote betting taking place away from the track than at the track.

The New York Racing Associatio­n, which operates three of the four thoroughbr­ed race tracks in the state, the Saratoga Race Course, Aqueduct Racetrack and Belmont Park, claimed the poll has no basis in fact and PETA’S efforts were “extreme” and “political.”

“PETA is utilizing a poll they themselves commission­ed and paid for to attempt to suggest that the overall popularity of horse racing is declining in New York,” said Patrick Mckenna, senior director of communicat­ions at NYRA. “That has no basis in fact or reality, as clearly demonstrat­ed by consistent increases in wagering handle and television ratings combined with in-person attendance well north of 1 million each and every year.”

PETA said it commission­ed the poll as part of its efforts to end state investment in horse racing.

“PETA is part of a coalition, including Alliance for Quality Education, NYCLASS, Human Services Council, Liveon New York, New York State Humane Associatio­n, Horseracin­g Wrongs, New York Communitie­s for Change and a growing list of other groups working to end the corporate welfare that props up racing,” said Marc Paulhus, a PETA horse racing specialist. “Most New Yorkers don’t care about horse racing, but the industry takes $230 million every year from casino taxes that could be going to benefit all New Yorkers.”

Mckenna said over 750,000 fans have attended racing at the Saratoga Race Track this summer, while millions more watched on television.

In 2019, 1.5 million people went to the three NYRARUN tracks over 217 race days, according to the most recent attendance numbers published by the New York Gaming Commission. The commission did not publish attendance numbers for the Finger Lakes thoroughbr­ed track in Farmington or the seven standardbr­ed tracks.

About 20 million people lived in New York in 2020, according to U.S. Census data. Therefore, if every person who attended a New York track in 2019 was a New Yorker and if each attendee went to the track only once, only 8 percent of New Yorkers would have gone to a race that year.

Of the 1.5 million NYRA track attendees, over 1 million went to a race at Saratoga in 2019. On an average race day at Aqueduct, less than 2,000 people attended a race in 2019; the track has capacity for about 40,000. Belmont, which has capacity for over 90,000 people, had roughly 4,000 people in attendance per race day in 2019.

Total attendance at the three NYRA tracks averaged 7,280 per race day in 2019, down from 9,450 per race day in 2015, according to gaming commission data. In 2005, attendance averaged 8,653 people per race day. In 1995, the tracks drew an average of 10,285 people per race day, state annual reports show.

Most betting on New York horse races no longer happens at tracks, but through account deposit wagering, at off-track betting locations and other means. NYRA says betting from all these remote sources is generally up.

“For example, the 2021 spring/summer meet at Belmont Park generated $632,208,251 in all-sources handle, a 20.6 percent increase over the 2019 spring/ summer meet and 63.5 percent above the 2020 spring/summer meet, which was abbreviate­d to just 25 days because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mckenna said.

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