The bidding process for the three-track franchise held by the New York Racing Association would be sharply accelerated and NYRA would come under new oversight by the state government under measures being pushed by Gov. George Pataki.
In the final hours of the New York legislature's 2005 session, a whole series of racing bills are being debated behind closed doors at the state Capitol, including a Pataki proposal to move to July 1 from Dec. 1 the date for the appointment of a nine-member panel charged with beginning the NYRA franchise bidding process.
Word of the possible deals came Wednesday as Pataki sharply lashed out at NYRA's operations, and said he is looking for "significant additional oversight of NYRA.'' Asked if he envisioned NYRA continuing its franchise to run Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks, Pataki said, "Not as its currently operating.''
"Obviously, I'm as distressed as everyone else by the failure of NYRA to repeatedly respond to audits or judicial requirements to take certain actions,'' Pataki said. He noted that, despite perceptions, New York state does not control NYRA. "If we did, it would be operating very differently,'' he said.
The governor earlier this year proposed for the second year in a row the creation of a state entity that would have broad powers to oversee the operations of NYRA. Coupled with it would be the elimination of the Thoroughbred Capital Investment Fund. The new entity could even step in and take over NYRA's operations if for some reason NYRA did not complete its franchise terms.
The NYRA franchise expires at the end of 2007. Current state law states that a nine-member panel "composed of three appointments of the governor and six from legislative leaders" be in place by next December to begin the request for proposal process for the racetrack franchise, which has been held by NYRA since 1955. The plan kicking around the Capitol would change that date to the end of next week -- a clear signal that at least some in state government are serious about putting the franchise out to a real bidding war this time.
Also being discussed is a measure pushed by NYRA that would take oversight of NYRA's video lottery terminal contract out of the hands of the state Racing and Wagering Board and turn it over to the state Lottery Division. Critics say the bid is an attempt by NYRA to get its VLT management deal with MGM Mirage -- which the head of the racing and wagering board told the Albany Times Union
was not done according to proper bidding procedures -- approved more easily by the state.
Also on the table is a push by OTBs to be allowed to offer internet wagering on racing, a plan that has met resistance in Pataki's office, according to sources at the Capitol. OTBs are also pushing relaxation of a state law that makes them keep payments at earlier levels to harness tracks for the loss of any revenues associated with approval several years ago of a law allowing the betting parlors to offer out-of-state nighttime Thoroughbred simulcasting.