Hong Kong commingling a ‘historic’ event? Time will tell

Aug 28, 2007 7:04 AM

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so, we suppose, is news.

A release from something called mediaunderground.com crossed our desk last week, and for a moment we thought the Messiah had arrived or China had declared war on us and the rest of the world.

"In a historic decision," it began, "the Nevada Gaming Commission has given its approval to allow the Hong Kong Jockey Club to accept commingled bets from the United States on Hong Kong racing."

This, the release went on to quote John Gaughan, president and CEO of Las Vegas Dissemination Company (LVDC), was "the biggest news to hit the horse racing industry in the past 30 years and will be a boost to the sport’s global popularity”¦The impact of the Hong Kong races will reverberate throughout the racing and casino industries and will enhance the way American books and race tracks operate their businesses."

We hope no one in Las Vegas, or Kurt Ouchida at mediaunderground.com, who wrote the release, or LVDC, will be upset that we think all this hype is tripe and nonsense.

It undoubtedly is a bright day for Mr. Gaughan and his company and its flacks, but American racetracks and the American racing public are not about to be transformed, nor is the game about to be revolutionized, by commingling of pools in Hong Kong.

The outpouring of whatever American money goes to Hong Kong is hardly an "historic moment." When mediaunderground.com can announce that Hong Kong will be able to take bets on American racing, with money pouring back to the host tracks in this country, then it can talk about historic moments. Until then, relax. This is not the second coming.

Thinking about Gaughan and LVDC, he and his company and all of the Vegas casinos should celebrate a moment of silence each morning for the founder of this newspaper, Chuck Di Rocco. I knew him from his days at Buffalo Raceway in New York, and he walked into Vegas like Benjamin Franklin walked into Philadelphia, with a loaf of bread under his arm and nothing else. He was one of the original disseminators in Vegas, and the father of simulcasting, and racing and gaming, in Las Vegas and everywhere else, should never forget that.

Speaking of the good guys of the world, and of Hong Kong, there was another development worth noting last week. When Bill Nader left the New York Racing Association as senior vice president to take over racing at Hong Kong, it left a huge gap in NYRA, now fighting for its life and its franchise.

The governor of New York will announce, on Sept. 4, who gets the franchise, NYRA or three contenders, one of whom includes Steve Wynn. Gov. Spitzer has said, on more than one occasion, that he was thinking of leaving NYRA in charge of racing and possibly splitting the gaming side of a NYRA with slots among the other contenders, who did not greet the news happily.

Last week, in a master stroke, NYRA announced that Nader’s place would be taken by Hal Handel, most recently chief executive officer of Greenwood Racing and its Philadelphia Park. Before that Handel ran New Jersey racing at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands, and before that he was on the New Jersey Racing Commission.

He is an exceedingly bright and talented racing executive, perhaps the best man in the country for the New York job. It should reassure Gov. Spitzer that he still wants to let NYRA continue running racing, for now he could make that decision in the firm knowledge that a top pro would be running the organization on a day-to-day basis.

One final note: a development that garnered little media notice, but could rank with Hong Kong commingling as an "historic moment." Little Tioga Downs and its sister track, Vernon Downs, have introduced K-9 trained police dogs into their backstretches, to sniff out drugs and drug paraphernalia, whose handlers have 20 years of combined experience.

Don’t sniff at the idea. If it works, and gives racing a new weapon in it’s battle with cheaters, it will be worth Hong Kong commingling and two future draft choices.