A powerful New York legislator says the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga racetracks should be awarded in the next six months in order to ensure the continued viability of racing in the state.
"Let's do it sooner rather than later,'' said Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.
The New York Racing Association franchise expires at the end of 2007. While a state panel has partially formed to deal with the process of picking a new franchise holder, Bruno suggested some in the industry are trying to delay the matter.
Bruno also issued a threat to NYRA not to put up any roadblocks to the request for proposals process that will choose a new franchise holder. "If they won't voluntarily understand that they need to go forward in a viable way to maintain the best racing in the country, if they don't willingly understand that we have to put an RFP together, then I think we have to try to pre-empt them,'' Bruno said.
But the Legislature's top Republican lawmaker did not precisely spell out what he meant by "pre-empt'' NYRA. There has been growing speculation that, with NYRA's current financial crisis, the state might try to move in and take over the franchise through its state Racing and Wagering Board and a new oversight panel.
Bruno said in the coming six months the state also needs to approve a new business model for the future franchise holder from "a model that's dysfunctional.''
Bruno said NYRA "needs a bailout'' because it needs $25 million over the next nine to 10 months "just to stay afloat.'' Bruno did not expand on whether the bailout would come in the form of state financial assistance. NYRA has floated the idea of a state bailout, but so far the state has not offered any cash. Instead, an oversight panel has drafted up a number of fiscal moves NYRA can take to help its cash flow crisis. The state's opposition led to the cancellation by a Manhattan auction house of a sale of 19 pieces of artwork that NYRA thought could raise about $1.3 million. The state is also trying to block NYRA from selling about 80 parcels of land in and around Aqueduct.
"Let us recognize that whatever we're going to do in '07 or '08 we ought to do in five or six months,'' Bruno said. The lawmaker said he has no favorites among the growing list of groups that have either announced or are rumored to be interested in the franchise. His son, Kenneth, had been a lobbyist for Magna Entertainment; Kenneth Bruno this week said he was shutting down the lobbying firm and opening a law firm.
Despite NYRA's many financial and legal problems, Bruno insisted NYRA could still end up holding the franchise. "I think if NYRA partners in the right way (it) would be very viable, but they've got to partner in the right way,'' he said.