Mixed Signals from Paterson on NYRA Deal

New York Gov. David Paterson is sending mixed signals on whether he wanted to re-open talks with the New York Racing Association over its deal for a new franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks.

At a time when his administration is negotiating the final deals of an agreement that will push NYRA out of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Paterson on May 28 indicated he might consider re-opening the entire franchise talks again with NYRA. The racing entity was awarded a 25-year franchise by Paterson’s predecessor, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in March amid a prostitution scandal, but the final agreement for the deal has not yet been signed.

“I would like to take a look at it,’’ Paterson said of the deal given NYRA, which includes more than $100 million in bailout and loan forgiveness from the state in return for NYRA giving up its ownership claims of the three tracks.

“I was just not particularly pleased. I don see how the state won in this exchange’’ with NYRA, Paterson said on an Albany radio station.

The new governor, however, then suggested that it would be difficult for his administration to go back on a deal agreed to by the Spitzer administration, in which he served as lieutenant governor.

Still, he then added, he wants to look at “the parameters by which I would challenge this, because if I could I would.’’

The fuzzy signals the governor sent could have major ramifications in the racing industry, especially as NYRA prepares for its summer meet in Saratoga. NYRA is still operating under a temporary agreement that must either be renewed again by the state before the Saratoga meet or given final enactment with the signature by Paterson and NYRA of the final agreement.

Still also up in the air is the future of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., which Mayor Michael Bloomberg is threatening to shut down if the state does not alter the revenue sharing agreement with tracks and other entities that he says is unfair to the city.

The Paterson administration is floating an idea that would let NYCOTB keep a larger percentage of money it now sends to NYRA and other in-state and out-of-state tracks, as well as a breeding fund. For NYRA, it would mean a loss of at least $12 million annually – a move NYRA insiders have said could hamper its efforts to emerge from bankruptcy protection.

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