Lawmaker Seeks Additional Time for OTB Plan

 

A top state lawmaker in New York urged the New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. to remain open a few more days to give negotiators additional time to strike a financial rescue plan.

The urging by Senate Racing Committee chairman Eric Adams came in advance of a NYCOTB board meeting April 17 that will consider the options of the money-losing OTB, including whether to shut it down at the close of business the following day.

Negotiators at the state Capitol made no progress April 15 to devise a plan for the nation’s largest OTB -- two days after lawmakers left town when a plan collapsed under the weight of opposition by most tracks and the union representing about 1,000 workers at the OTB –- that would have provided a one-year bailout for the OTB.

"Folks are still meeting, but we haven’t gotten anywhere," Adams said late April 16.

Adams said he has been given no indication what the OTB board might do at its 11 a.m, April 17 meeting, and senior government officials say no final decision has been made internally about the immediate plans for the betting entity.

Some officials believe the OTB has the resources to remain open until lawmakers return to Albany on Monday to try again to pass a plan. With the state facing its own financial crisis, efforts have turned to letting the OTB, which is already in Chapter 9 bankruptcy reorganization, lower its statutory payments to tracks. The deal that died this week also included a $17 million borrowing plan for the New York Racing Association to resolve its own cash flow problems for the rest of the year; that funding led NYRA to lobby for the deal that fell apart earlier this week.

While Gov. David Paterson has said he expects the OTB board to shut down its parlors and wagering systems, Adams said the state-owned OTB should remain open to permit the talks to play out.

"What I’m hoping is that all parties involved realize that it’s time for us to all share the pain of what it’s going to take to keep the OTB afloat," Adams said. "Hopefully, the board will make a decision to buy a few more days. People have not stopped talking. If they were not talking that’s one thing, but people are really attempting to come to some sort of resolution."

Asked if he believed the OTB has the financial ability to remain open into next week, Adams said, "They have stated they didn’t have the resources. But sometimes when you look under the mattress you find another quarter."

There are several schools of thought at the Capitol. One is that the board votes to let the OTB remain open another few days or week so as not to disrupt operations to give talks in Albany another shot. The other is it closes down at the close of business April 18 as a way to put pressure on Paterson and lawmakers to strike a deal as early as the following day. Another option is closure, and it is reorganized into some new entity in whole or part. Officials say that in the end, an enterprise that handles nearly $1 billion of bets –- and is heavily counted upon by tracks and horsemen for revenue-sharing payments –- will have to exist in some form.

The OTB was to have shut down last Sunday, but the board extended its life another week.

The state’s top racing regulator, meanwhile, created a stir April 16 with the release of a statement that suggested money in OTB bettors’ accounts might not be safe.

State Racing and Wagering Board chairman John Sabini said his agency will "do everything in its power" to protect the open accounts of OTB customers and any uncashed winnings.

But after fielding calls from a number of worried customers, the OTB released its own statement to soothe the concerns raised by Sabini, saying all customer accounts and uncashed winning tickets are "safe and secure."

The OTB generally has a couple million dollars or so in customer accounts at any given time, sources said. That money, along with payroll payments owed to employees, are kept in segregated accounts and will be fully funded if the OTB shuts down.

If the OTB shuts down, several parlors will remain open for a week for patrons to cash in their tickets or vouchers, after which a central office will process the payments for another six weeks.

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