November 29, 2012

Capital District OTB holds its own in tough racing business


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Revenues for Capital District OTB remain level despite difficult times in the horse-racing business.

“For us to stay level is actually pretty good, but we’ve had to do a lot to get there,” said Sherm Hamel, Clinton County’s Capital District OTB representative.

Capital District OTB covers 16 counties, including Clinton, Essex and Franklin, plus the City of Schenectady. The counties share revenue taken in on bets based on a formula that factors in the amount of bets made in a county and its population.


During his recent report to county legislators, Hamel said Clinton County could expect to get about $75,000 in revenue from Capital OTB for 2013, the same amount as 2012.

Hamel said that while the handle has been up about 1.5 percent in 2012, expenses have also been up. As a result, expenditures had to be trimmed in the form of workers being cut and OTB betting sites closed.

The small parlor on Smithfield Boulevard in the Town of Plattsburgh was closed last year in a cost-saving move.

“It just wasn’t making any money,” Hamel said.

Capital District OTB employed about 450 workers in 2007, and now it has only about 250.

“You have to cut expenses, and we’ve done that, and that is why we have been able to stay profitable,” Hamel said.

While the handle may be up, OTB must pay each track whose races they carry and the jockeys.

“Everybody gets their cut,” Hamel said.


Another factor, Hamel said, is an antiquated deal between OTB and Saratoga Harness Track. Several years ago, OTB agreed to pay Saratoga a portion of its handle for the rights to feature Saratoga races at OTB parlors.

“They were worried that nobody would go the track if people could bet those races at OTB,” he explained.

Capital District pays Saratoga about $3 million a year, while netting only about $300,000 from the harness races. Hamel said they would like to rework the deal to provide more money for the counties and less for the track.

“If we could get that changed, we would make a lot more money for the counties,” he said.

Capital OTB provides Essex County with about $26,000 per year, according to County Manager Daniel Palmer, and Franklin County is expecting to get about $50,000 in 2013, according to its tentative budget.


In a move to generate more interest in racing — and hopefully, eventually, more revenue for the counties — Capital OTB recently entered into an agreement with Racetrack Television Network to carry Capital OTB’s TV schedule of morning programming to a national television audience via satellite provider DISH Network.

“As a public-benefit corporation, Capital OTB is in the business of making money for the municipalities in our region,” Capital OTB Chairman Marcel “Mickey” Webb, who is from Franklin County, said in a statement.

“The new OTB-TV production studio and the other investments we have made have been accomplished in a very cost-effective manner and will result in more profitable operations and a greater return to our host communities.”

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