The still-stalled franchise extension for the New York Racing Association, a new steroid testing lab, and a company to run a casino at Aqueduct Racetrack are all still on the negotiating table June 23 when lawmakers in New York return to the Capitol for the final days of the 2008 legislative session.
The outcomes of those issues will have major consequences for the industry, which many say is at a crossroads now in New York.
For NYRA, the action or inaction by the legislature this week could affect its plans to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A planned June 30 court date before the bankruptcy judge is now in doubt, insiders say.
At issue is a “clean-up’’ bill involving the 25 year NYRA franchise legislation earlier this year. It was originally meant to provide some technical corrections to the law giving NYRA the rights to run Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga in return for giving up its racetrack land claims to the state.
But negotiations have become bogged down in recent days. Senate Republicans, whose majority leader, Joseph Bruno, is a Thoroughbred breeder, have been seeking ways to raise the share of Thoroughbred breeding awards as part of the NYRA bill, officials say. And Nassau County lawmakers want a revenue-sharing provision placed in the bill to give money to communities around Belmont.
NYRA officials declined comment, but sources say NYRA believes it needs the clean-up bill in order to get out of its bankruptcy protection.
Some lawmakers are not convinced. “The clean-up bill may or may not be necessary,’’ said Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, chairman of the Assembly racing committee. “NYRA should be able to come out of bankruptcy without any additional legislation. But if the judge deems that legislation is necessary, then we’ll do what we have to do to get them out of bankruptcy.’’
The lawmaker added his doubts about how hard NYRA is trying to emerge from the Chapter 11 protection. “Somehow I think they enjoy being in bankruptcy now. It takes some of the pressure off of them. They can say, ‘We can’t do this or that,’ ’’ Pretlow said.
Meanwhile, the Westchester County Democrat has joined Sen. William Larkin, chairman of the Senate racing committee, in proposing a last-minute bill to create a steroid-testing facility at Cornell University’s respected veterinarian lab. The measure is curiously timed since New York has not banned steroids for Thoroughbreds.
“Testing for steroids in racehorses has become a racing industry priority,’’ according to a legislative memo explaining the new bill. It adds that the horsemen’s organization that operates at NYRA tracks supports the legislation; funding for the new steroid testing equipment would come from the horsemen’s fund, according to the legislation.
Officials speaking privately say they want Cornell to be prepared for the likelihood of steroid bans being put in place in the industry. They see the university lab doing a brisk business for both New York and out-of-state tracks down the road.
The legislation in the Assembly was introduced one day after The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Safety Committee called for the elimination of anabolic steroids in racing June 17.
Also unresolved is which of three entities will run the long-stalled casino and its 4,500 VLTs at Aqueduct. The bidders are Australian-based Capital Play and its partner Mohegan Sun, which is run by a Connecticut Indian tribe; SL Green Realty Corp. and Hard Rock Entertainment, which is owned by the Seminole Indian tribe in Florida; and Buffalo-based Delaware North Cos., which runs other racetrack VLT casinos in the state.
State officials are playing the bidding close to the vest, resulting in much confusion. For instance, state Sen. John Sabini, who was recently nominated by Gov. David Paterson to be the chairman of the state Racing and Wagering commission, has been portrayed in the media as supportive of Capital Play.
But Sabini, in an interview, said he had complimentary words to say about Capital Play during a floor debate earlier this year over the legislation giving NYRA a new 25 year franchise. Capital Play had bid for the franchise. “I said nice things about them at the NYRA approval, but it wasn’t dealing with the Aqueduct bid,’’ he said.
Of the bidders, Sabini said, “They all bring something a little different, and they all bring something a little good.’’
A decision was originally expected before the Legislature ended its session. But Paterson administration officials say that is unlikely because background checks are still being done on the bidders and the state is still poring over the three financial plans.
The decision will be made jointly by Paterson, Bruno, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The casino is expected to bring in excess of $400 million a year in revenue-sharing for the state, which is facing multi-billion budget deficits over the next three years.