Spitzer Asks Racing Franchise Contenders to Re-Submit Bids

Spitzer Asks Racing Franchise Contenders to Re-Submit Bids
Photo: AP
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, has asked racing franchise bidders to re-submit proposals.

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is asking the four entities vying for the state’s Thoroughbred franchise to re-submit their bidding packages to reflect changes made in their structure and plans over the past year. He also opened the door for any of the existing bidders to join forces in a joint venture deal.

Spitzer said he will then make his long-anticipated decision on his recommendation for the future of the franchise by Sept. 4.

The announcement, which struck down days of rumors and media reports that he was going to be re-bidding the entire franchise process to more than just the present bidders, gives the four bidders until Aug. 7 to submit their changes.

The administration said the request came because some of the bidding groups have seen dramatic changes in their structures that could affect their overall proposals.

Excelsior Racing Associates has lost key partners and added new ones, such as real estate developer Steve Roth, while Capital Play was joined this week by Mohegan Sun, the Connecticut-based Indian casino company. And the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association recently left its partnership with Empire Racing Associates.

There would be nothing to stop the bidders from adding new partners between now and Aug. 7 or even coming up with new ideas for the franchise. Bidders could also “strengthen’’ their existing bids with new plans, a state official said.

The administration said July 20 that because of changes in the different bidding groups since April “each is being asked to update is proposal to reflect its current structure and financing or to confirm that there have been no material changes since the last submission.’’

Excelsior was tapped last year in a non-binding recommendation by a state panel created before Spitzer became governor. The Democratic governor said he would take that panel’s work, but supplant it with new information gathered – including “integrity’’ reviews that cost bidders $1 million apiece – by his top advisors.

The administration has been looking at a number of possibilities, including shutting down racing at Aqueduct and possibly using part of it for a casino.

The administration has also said it may award the next franchise to one bidder, or it may split it up so that one entity would handle racing while others would be in charge of casinos that could be built at Aqueduct and Belmont as well as possible real estate opportunities at the tracks. Some officials have questioned the logic of continuing two downstate racetracks, especially given the valuable land opportunities at, for example, Aqueduct.

The administration has also floated a plan in which it would let the New York Racing Association, which has run the tracks since 1955, to continue overseeing racing while giving the gambling and real estate duties to Excelsior.

In its statement July 20, the Spitzer administration asked the bidders to formally state whether they were interested in continuing to seek the franchise as a whole in or parts, such as its future casino operations.

“Each of the others may discuss with any of the others a joint venture operation and, in its submission, may present any joint arrangement that has been reached,’’ the statement said.

The NYRA franchise expires Dec. 31. Any plan submitted by Spitzer would have to be approved by the Legislature. Action is not expected before this fall.

NYRA is in federal bankruptcy court, where it has made claims that it, not the state, owns the racetracks. That legal claim, which state lawyers take seriously, is said to be driving part of the leaning toward giving NYRA another run at the franchise; Spitzer also said recently that NYRA has made improvements to its operations since its many legal troubles over the years.

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