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Queens Chronicle

NYRA won’t budge on MV man’s racetrack ban

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Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:59 am, Thu Sep 5, 2013.

A Middle Village fan of horse racing is still being denied access to the track by the New York Racing Association, even after enlisting the help of state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) in his cause.

But John Stalzer, a disabled retiree, isn’t going away without continuing the fight.

Stalzer was barred from Aqueduct Race Track, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course on April 10. He says it’s because he had blown the whistle on several bad practices at NYRA — ranging from not paying out the full winnings on certain bets to not locating handicapped parking spaces as close to the clubhouse as possible to letting nonmembers into the exclusive Players Club area.

NYRA officials will not say why they barred Stalzer, warning him in writing that he would be arrested for trespassing if he showed up at the track, but they told Addabbo they have good reason.

Stalzer insists it’s all about retaliation. After months of trying to resolve the issue himself, he went to Addabbo, who serves on the Senate’s Racing, Gaming & Wagering Committee. And he went to the Queens Chronicle, which ran an exclusive report on the situation May 30.

But Addabbo said NYRA won’t budge, despite his best efforts. A racing official, Susan Stover, told him Stalzer was banned “based on his actions against NYRA employees and other customers,” the senator said, but did not go into detail. The official said she would send Addabbo a package of information on the reasons Stalzer was kicked out.

“They’re going to make sure they’ve got grounds, so my guess is they have the documentation,” Addabbo said this week. “It’s always frustrating when we don’t see eye to eye with an entity like NYRA, and when a constituent is frustrated because he didn’t get the answer he wants. Certainly I feel bad for him, but the ban is NYRA’s prerogative.

“What bothers me about the situation is that I still believe in his issues, the handicapped spots and how those with disabilities are treated. He does have a valid point there.”

But while Addabbo said he did all he could, Stalzer asserts that he didn’t — especially since he didn’t go right to the head of NYRA but instead dealt with a member of the association’s “middle management.”

“He didn’t give 100 percent effort,” Stalzer said. “In his position he could have done more. It’s absurd that the New York Racing Association can get away with this and he can’t do anything about it. It’s state-owned property and he’s a state senator.”

Stalzer first made his complaints about NYRA in late 2011, and Addabbo wrote the association about them.

Stalzer had discovered that NYRA was shorting winners of “exotic wagers,” bets involving at least three horses. NYRA acknowledged that he was correct on that one.

He also said handicapped spaces at Belmont should be as close to the track as possible, but instead several rows of regular parking are nearer. NYRA said it doesn’t have to put the handicapped spaces closer.

And Stalzer, a member of the Players Club, entry to which requires betting at least $150,000 a year, complained that nonmembers were being allowed into the restricted area. NYRA told him they were guests of members but said it would evaluate the situation.

But as Stalzer tried to set up meetings with NYRA officials over the issues, relations got testy, and then in April he was handed a notice barring him from the tracks.

When he was banned, Stalzer still had “around $100” in his NYRA account, money he has been unable to access. Addabbo’s office typed up a letter requesting closure of the account for him; all he has to do is sign it.

But Stalzer — who fell in love with racing 40 years ago and has seen legendary horses such as Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirm on the track — isn’t backing down in his efforts to get back into the grandstands.

“This is retaliation, and further action will be taken,” he said. “I’m reaching out to advocates for the handicapped, and I’m not ruling out a lawsuit.”

Addabbo said that if NYRA’s leadership changes, he will try to help Stalzer again.

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