NY Senate Mulls Overhaul to Spitzer Racing Franchise Plan

NY Senate Mulls Overhaul to Spitzer Racing Franchise Plan

A day after New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer recommended the New York Racing Association for a 30-year franchise extension, officials with the Republican-led Senate said an alternative is being crafted to bring in more players to run the lucrative franchise.
The plan envisions creation of a new governmental authority that would have sweeping control over the franchise. The entity would oversee all aspects of the franchise, a source said, including picking bidders to run different aspects of the three-track franchise.
The idea could, a well-placed legislative source said, result in a single entity running the three tracks, or a different company in charge of each of the tracks. The agency could select one company to develop a casino at Aqueduct and another to run a possible casino at Belmont. It could be in charge of picking everything from maintenance to tote contractors. The new entity would have more oversight than the state currently has over NYRA.
“It would be one entity overseeing everything,’’ the source said, adding that the concept would give greater control by the state government over an important industry in New York.
Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who represents the Saratoga racetrack and whose support is needed for any franchise proposal to advance, talked in generalities about Senate officials looking at a more “universal’’ alternative to the plan advanced by Spitzer.
The governor called for giving NYRA a 30-year franchise extension. NYRA would give up its claims that it owns the three tracks. The state would forgive more than $130 million in debt owed by NYRA to the state, and would be in line to give $75 million – possibly much more, Bruno maintained – to NYRA to help fund its operations before its future casino operations begin. The governor said a private entity would be selected in the next couple months to run the gambling and any real estate ventures at the three tracks.
The Spitzer plan needs legislative approval.
With less than four months left in NYRA’s franchise, Bruno criticized Spitzer’s plan for being “late.’’ But, he cautioned, that it is “early in the selection’’ process, a signal from the powerful GOP leader that his house, at least, intends to seek changes in the governor’s plan.
Bruno has talked in the past of involving more entities in running Thoroughbred racing in New York. “We’ve got some of the major players in the whole world taking an interest,’’ he said Sept. 4, noting that among them are Magna Entertainment, Churchill Downs, and Woodbine.
“I think it’s big enough for a lot of people to participate. The question is: How do you do it?’’ Bruno said.
Bruno, who has had harsh words for NYRA in recent years, was more positive in his assessment of the financially ailing racing group that has held the franchise since 1955. “They worked with a model that doesn’t work. So, I don’t want to be critical of the people who run NYRA because this goes back over the years,’’ Bruno said.
“I think they have done a lot of good things and they deserve recognition for that,’’ Bruno said of NYRA. “The question is what role does everybody play. I think NYRa has to play a role, and a major role, of what goes on.’’

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