NYCOTB Restructuring Plan Fails in Albany

Efforts to realign the struggling racing and off-track betting industry in New York have failed another annual legislative session at the state Capitol in Albany June 23.

Among the plans dropping off the negotiating table in recent days was a measure to let Catskill Off-Track Betting Corp. re-open 10 betting parlors once run by the now-shuttered New York City OTB, and another effort to permit Nassau OTB take control of nearby Suffolk OTB, which is operating under bankruptcy court protection.
“I keep pushing for holistic, structural reform, and right now many of the powers that be around here are entrenched in keeping the status quo, whether it’s patronage, whether it’s favoritism for one OTB over another,’’ said Senate racing committee chairman John Bonacic.
Assembly racing committee chairman Gary Pretlow butted heads with Bonacic over various consolidation efforts, but said the industry is to blame for inaction as the New York Legislature pushes to end its 2011 session in the coming day or so.
“This should have been a year for realignment,’’ Pretlow said. “But knowing the industry, everyone is bickering with everyone else and nobody wants to sit down and compromise.
A bill did pass requiring racing-related entities to hire in-state companies when contracting out for call centers; the bill came as a response to the New York Racing Association’s decision to hire an Oregon call center owned by Churchill Downs.
Both houses this week also gave final approval to a measure in which the state would assume the health insurance costs of unionized workers who lost their jobs when the state-owned NYCOTB shut down last December. Sources believe, however, that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has problems with the bill and fear setting a costly precedent for the state’s future obligations if he signs the bill.
The Legislature this week, as expected, also gave authority to the New York State Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to steer a certain percentage of purse funds to support medical and mental health services for backstretch workers. Additionally, a 2010 law was renewed involving payment levels by the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund for breeder awards, marketing and administration costs.
But Bonacic said he was hoping the industry would recognize its fiscal problems and agree to sweeping reforms. “By doing nothing, we’re hoping that those who don’t want reforms are going to see that obviously this is a failing system, slowly hemorrhaging, and they either have to do something sooner or later. We’ve lost an opportunity this year,’’ he said.
Bonacic said he has also met with Bennett Liebman, a former state racing regulator who founded a racing and wagering think tank at Albany Law School and last week began a new job as racing advisor to the New York governor.
Bonacic called Liebman “a gentleman that I respect.’’
“I think he’s going to try to look to do structural reforms, pushing from the governor’s office, which is not something we’ve had to date,’’ the Republican senator said.

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