A who's who of racing industry heavyweights formally notified New York state June 30 of their interest in obtaining the franchise now held by the New York Racing Association to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga racetracks.
Many of the names – the NYRA, Magna Entertainment, and Churchill Downs – were expected. But the field of 16 potential bidders also includes TVG Network and entities or individuals tied to Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
MGM Grand, NYRA's VLT partner at Aqueduct, also said it is interested in the franchise. And Empire Racing Associates, a group of New York breeders and owners, formally said it wants the franchise.
One group – Excelsior Racing Associates – kept the mystery going a bit longer by declining to identify its partners. Among its principles, racing insiders have been saying for months, is New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Top advisors to Steinbrenner have been making calls this week to Albany insiders inquiring about the franchise, according to people knowledgeable about the calls.
"George Steinbrenner does not wish to discuss the NYRA franchise,'' his spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, said in an e-mail.
Officials said Excelsior's partners include Richard Fields, a former top adviser to Donald Trump, and Steve Swindal, Steinbrenner's son-in-law.
State officials expect a number of entities expressing interest to join forces with others on the list that was submitted to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing. The panel set June 30 as the deadline for groups to submit an expression of interest in the franchise; the submissions were a condition for bidding on the franchise later this summer.
All the off-track betting corporations based in New York except Catskill OTB Corp. said separately they are interested in the franchise. So, too, did Capital Play, an Australian racetrack and pari-mutuel company.
Las Vegas-based LRW Development, which officials said is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wynn Resorts Inc., submitted a letter of interest, as did ODS Technologies, which does business as TVG. One mystery group, WNY Gaming Associates, also sent a letter of interest to the state panel. Monticello Raceway is also one of the potential bidders.
The NYRA franchise expires Dec. 31, 2007. With a new governor taking office next year, lawmakers have already made clear they intend to wait until 2007 to pick a franchise winner. Also in the mix is how far New York may go in changing what has been criticized as a broken business model to run Thoroughbred racing in the state.
The bids, due Aug. 15, must include what changes to law are needed and whether slots will be permitted at Belmont in addition to current law that allows them at Aqueduct. Details about what the bidders will do about backstretch conditions, marketing, purse structures, and improving the overall health of the industry will also be required.
"It's not a surprise that there's as many as 16 bidders. Certainly, the potential for VLT revenue has really changed the landscape from the last time this process was played out in 1997,'' said William Nadar, a NYRA spokesman.
"At least the process has officially begun, and we're happy to see now that the tempo will quicken,'' he said.
Calls to several other potential bidders were not returned.
The state panel has said it will make its recommendation for a franchise winner by Sept. 15. The Legislature and governor must approve it.See Complete Requests for Proposals at Ad Hoc Committee on Future of Racing Web Site