Deadline to Offer Choice for New York Track Operator Will Not be Met

Deadline to Offer Choice for New York Track Operator Will Not be Met
Photo: Associated Press
New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer, raised concerns about the bidding package for the NYRA franchise.
Next week's deadline by a New York state panel to offer its non-binding choice for a new operator of the state's three major Thoroughbred racetracks will not be met, the chairman of the committee said.

"After spending several weeks evaluating the materials from the four bidders who submitted proposals for the state's racing franchise, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing has unanimously agreed that a thorough and reasoned deliberation can not occur within its initial, self-imposed deadline and must be adjusted,'' J. Patrick Barrett, the committee's chairman said in a written statement after the panel met in Manhattan Sept. 22.

A new deadline was not selected to replace the Sept. 29 deadline the committee hard earlier said it could meet.

The Blood-Horse recently reported the panel was eyeing the delay because, in part, permission had not yet been approved for the committee to hire an outside auditing firm to go through the complicated financial offerings by four bidders vying for the lucrative franchise.

The delay came one day after New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer raised concerns about the bidding package for the state's Thoroughbred franchise, while saying a decision to reward the rights to run Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga racetracks could still be properly made this year before Gov. George Pataki leaves office Dec. 31.

Spitzer, the distant frontrunner in the governor's race to replace Pataki, also had sharp words for the New York Racing Association, with whom he has battled often in the past, and their insistence that it owns the land upon which the tracks sit.

Spitzer, like other state officials, insists the state owns the land. "I don't care what they say. They're not going to use that as leverage. They are a state entity, created by the state. They're a pawn of the state ... and they should be tossed out on their ear if they don't understand,'' Spitzer told an audience at the Sept. 21 annual meeting of the New York State Associated Press Association.

"As governor, I would have absolutely no patience with people trying to play with a public asset. It's a public asset that should be used to generate jobs and revenues to support Saratoga and all the other regions that are dependent upon it,'' he said.

Spitzer's remarks came as NYRA officials have been threatening to file for bankruptcy protection – a route some NYRA officials believe could help them in their land claim battle with the state over who has the rights to the tracks' property once the existing NYRA franchise expires at the end of next year. NYRA says it will soon run out of money if the state does not give final approval to a long-stalled VLT casino project at Aqueduct.

NYRA is bidding against three other entities for the franchise.

Meeting later with reporters, Spitzer said he is not necessarily opposed to the franchise decision being made this year. Many industry observers have speculated that Spitzer, if he wins the election next month, will put pressure on the Legislature not to act on any franchise plan so the matter could be decided next year after Pataki leaves. One veteran legislator has already said he does not see the matter being resolved until after a new governor takes office next year.

The state panel overseeing the bidding process met in Manhattan Sept. 22 to continue scoring the offers made by the bidders, which include coalitions of top racing companies – Magna Entertainment and Churchill Downs – and gambling companies, financiers and horsemen.

"I never like to say I'm in favor of delay. If they can review the proposals and get to an appropriate and wise conclusion, that's great,'' said Spitzer, whose office led a number of investigations into illegal doings at NYRA several years ago.

"I would love to have input, but I also don't want people to delay just so I can have the input,'' Spitzer said if he wins the election. "I'm not persuaded we're going to get that far into the process before Jan. 1, but we'll have to wait and see.''

If Democrat Spitzer wins the race against Republican John Faso, who also told the same AP gathering that the state owns the tracks' land, the bidding process could be subject to changes. Some industry insiders have suggested that if a decision is not made before Pataki leaves office the entire process could be re-started, including changes to the request for proposal package that would force bidders to re-examine their offers.

Spitzer raised concerns about the RFP issued by the state panel, saying he has "some problems with the way the RFP was structured.'' The ad hoc committee is grading bidders on a number of factors, such as financial viability and how their plans will improve the health of racing. Another factor involves the integrity of a bidder.

But Spitzer said having 20% of the bid's value be based on the integrity of the bidder makes no sense. Instead, he said, franchise suitors should be forced to meet the integrity standard before even having their bids considered.

"I would have said as a prerequisite that the bidding entities have an absolute clean bill of health when it comes to integrity,'' he said.

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