Friends of New York Racing, formed to advocate a new economic model for the pari-mutuel industry in the state, believes backstretch health and welfare issues should be addressed as part of the selection process for the New York Racing Association franchise.In a Jan. 20 release, FNYR estimated capital improvements for construction or renovation of dormitories at $10 million to $12 million, with another $2 million a year for health and welfare services for backstretch workers. FNYR has asked the state's Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing to consider the issues when the NYRA franchise request for proposal is prepared.The franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga expires at the end of 2007."The quality of life on the NYRA backstretches needs to be improved on various different levels," FNYR president Tim Smith said in a statement. "With millions of dollars of revenue expected from (video lottery terminals), and a possible new franchise operator in 2008, important issues ranging from health care to housing to social services should be addressed."NYRA is set to begin construction on a VLT parlor at Aqueduct this year. In an earlier report to state officials, FNYR recommended Belmont be approved for VLTs as well.Currently, more than 1,000 backstretch workers and their families reside in the housing provided by NYRA at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga. Based on a review of "best practices" from other jurisdictions, a report prepared by the FNYR business advisory council describes several areas in which improvements are necessary.The report says all backstretch services should be consolidated into one multi-purpose facility for medical and dental services, social and human services, educational services, recreational services, and faith-based needs. It also says a new women's dormitory should be built at Belmont, and all dormitories should be renovated to meet state Department of Health and OSHA standards.FNYR said women make up about 35% of the backstretch work force, yet only 16% of the rooms are assigned for use by women."While NYRA and some of the human services organizations have made progress, it is apparent that much more needs to be done," said Wayne Diesel, chairman of the FNYR business advisory council. "This is another area where the state can ensure improvement by making this part of the franchise RFP process."