Senate Committee OKs NYRA Legislation
Photo: NYRA Photo
VLT casino at Aqueduct in New York

A measure to end the state's control of the New York Racing Association is advancing in the New York legislature, and a key lawmaker said Gov. Andrew Cuomo has still not revealed his own idea for the future of the racing organization.

"The governor is making noise, but we're seeing no bill," said John Bonacic, chairman of the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee.

The Senate committee June 1 approved a Bonacic-sponsored bill that would return NYRA to a privately run board of trustees later this fall at the expiration of a four-year period, in which Cuomo appointees dominated the board. The same version of the Bonacic bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, a Saratoga Springs Democrat, is on the calendar and due to be reported out of the Assembly Racing Committee June 2.

The two-house bill gives the governor two appointees to the new board, with an additional one each by leaders of the Assembly and Senate. The chairman of NYRA would get a seat, and the New York Thoroughbred Breeders and New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association would each get a board seat with full voting powers.

The remaining eight would be chosen by the executive committee of the current NYRA board, with one from each of Nassau, Queens, and Saratoga counties, which are the locations of the three NYRA tracks.

Bonacic, a Republican from the Hudson Valley, said Cuomo has floated two ideas that are unacceptable to legislators: letting the governor have five appointees on the new NYRA board and allowing the state to "claw back" video lottery terminal proceeds Bonacic said would reduce purse payments from $60 million to $44 million at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course.

The VLT purse funds, as well as money for breed development and capital improvements at NYRA facilities, are generated at the Resorts World Casino on the Aqueduct property.

"That's not acceptable to us, because the money is needed in the agricultural and racing industry more than he says is needed for education, because education is (funded at) over $25 billion," Bonacic said. "Agriculture and racing need the money more."

If a three-way deal is not negotiated between Cuomo and the two legislative houses, Bonacic said he hopes the Assembly will support his plan to pass a NYRA bill and then send it on to Cuomo "and let him do what he wants to do at the appropriate time."

"That's what we're going to do. We've already agreed on a bill,'' Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow said of the Assembly and Senate acting on the NYRA bill before the legislative session ends June 16.

Pretlow said if Cuomo then vetoes the bill, the old NYRA board composition will automatically kick in again when the state's control period ends this fall.

Asked if the Legislature could end up doing another one-year extension of the state oversight—which was done in 2015—Pretlow said: "We're not doing that."

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