More Franchise Hearings Scheduled in New York

With the deadline ticking before New York’s Thoroughbred racing franchise expires, the state Senate has announced three public hearings to consider the future of the industry in New York.

During the first session Sept. 27, officials will review Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s recently proposed memorandum of understanding in which the New York Racing Association would be awarded a 30-year extension to its exclusive franchise, held since 1955, to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who holds veto power over the governor’s plan because of his control of the Republican-led Senate, has criticized Spitzer’s plan and said more entities from the industry in North America—including Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment Corp.—need to be involved in running racing in the state.

Another hearing, to be held during the first week of October, will consider various matters involving the franchise and its impact on towns near Belmont. Several ideas have been floated involving Belmont, including eventually locating a video lottery terminal casino there and renovating it to be able to handle winter racing.

The final hearing, to be held during the second week of October, will take testimony involving the best business model for the franchise. NYRA and state officials have said the longstanding model under which NYRA has operated does not work; no one has yet to settle on a new plan.

The Senate did not release the dates and locations of the second and third hearings.

The Senate will invite representatives from the four bidding groups—NYRA, Empire Racing Associates, Excelsior Racing Associates, and Capital Play—to appear at the third hearing.

“It is very important that an appropriate business model for the management of the state racing franchise is developed as soon as possible to ensure that New York has the strongest racing in the world,” Senate Racing Committee chairman William Larkin said in a statement released Sept. 18.

Larkin said any future model must ensure that all tracks operate at a profit, expand breeding in the state, and boost VLT payments to the state.

The NYRA franchise expires Dec. 31. If the matter is not resolved by then, there are several options, including extending the current franchise for a period of time or having a state panel that now oversees NYRA finances take over the running of the franchise.

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