If you asked me to predict who will be the most important person in horse racing in 2012, I would say Charlie Hayward, CEO of the New York Racing Association.
The game-changer for Hayward and the NYRA was the opening of a casino at New York's Aqueduct Racetrack. Money finally is pouring into their coffers after a decade of indebtedness.
Hayward and the NYRA will be in a position to offer the best horse racing in the country -- by far. How about $900,000 daily average purses at Saratoga? New York horsemen must be giddy as we head into Christmas.
Hayward now has a chance to be a game-changer for horseplayers, too. In past years, we have seen one racetrack after another take revenue from slot machines and raise their purses. That's fine. But I have not seen any of these tracks lower their takeout, in essence growing their business with bettors and creating new ones.
The NYRA could start the grand experiment of lowering its takeout to increase handle where maybe the horse industry can discover its optimal pricing level.
It's also important to increase overall handle as well as purses for this political reason: State governments are starving for cash and are eyeing the slot profits now going to horsemen. If nothing is done to improve the business model, then these track executives are in an indefensible position.
A bailout is a bailout, and that's what slot profits are. But what have you done to grow your business with the consumers? Let your actions speak.
Hayward has worked miracles keeping the NYRA going with staples and Scotch tape. Now he has the resources to be a game-changer not only in New York but for the industry.
Let's see what Hayward does for the horseplayers in 2012. Moving forward, he could start a ripple effect with lasting, positive results.
■ EXCHANGE WAGERING -- In a presentation at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing and Gaming, Stephen Burn, CEO of TVG and Betfair, said the takeout on exchange wagering in California will be 10 percent. That sounds great because the blended takeout rate on pari-mutuel wagering in the United States is about 20 percent. However, the takeout on exchange wagering in Europe is just 5 percent. Greed might be good on Wall Street, but it seems like they risk killing the golden goose before it's even born.
■ SHADE TREE CHARITY -- The annual Daily Racing Form charity drive for the Shade Tree Shelter is accepting gifts and donations through Dec. 23. The Shade Tree charity offers aid to abused and homeless women and children in Las Vegas. A list of needed items can be viewed at theshadetree.org website. Create good karma for 2012 by donating at the DRF office at 6000 S. Eastern Ave.
Richard Eng's horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.