The head of the New York Racing Association said he made “a mistake” by not sharing details about management pay hikes with state oversight officials, but he defended the fiscal health of the racing group and said NYRA will be in the black in 2012.
NYRA president Charles Hayward also said decisions involving NYRA’s finances are made by its board of directors—many of whom, he noted, are appointed by state political leaders.
The part-apology, part-defiance address by Hayward came June 27 during NYRA’s annual press conference touting its upcoming Saratoga meet. It also came a week after the state Inspector General’s office, which has broad legal powers, launched an investigation of NYRA’s operations.
The probe was requested by officials from the state Franchise Oversight Board, which is charged with overseeing NYRA’s finances.
Hayward lamented the loss of owners from the embattled industry and said it is “possible” NYRA might have to go to a five-day meet at Saratoga in the future if the shortage of available horses persists. But he insisted NYRA is making changes—from a new push on simulcast operations to opening the door to possibly reopening some of the shuttered New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. betting halls and a potential construction effort at Saratoga—to turn around its financial picture.
He also said the red ink is made worse by the state’s mandatory fee structure on such things as pari-mutuel taxes and regulatory expenses.
“Despite the dark clouds on the racing industry and some issues we have, I think we have reason for optimism,” Hayward said.
Hayward said NYRA is in “better shape”’ than at any time in the last decade, and he recounted a laundry list of its past troubles, including a federal indictment and bankruptcy. But the racing chief did not mention the investigation by the Inspector General’s office.
In a letter read at the annual NYRA Saratoga press conference by New York State Racing and Wagering Board chairman John Sabini, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the Saratoga meet represents the “fabric of life” in New York. “My administration will continue to work with the racing industry,” Cuomo said in the brief letter read by Sabini.
The governor said he will continue to press for “full transparency to do what’s best for racing and for Saratoga.”
In a stinging letter to Hayward, the governor’s budget director, Robert Megna, questioned the fiscal future of NYRA and lashed out at Hayward for failing to disclose information about NYRA management raises and not appearing at a recent Franchise Oversight Board meeting. Megna is head of that panel.
Megna said Hayward's failure to attend the meeting in Albany was seen by franchise board members “as a slap in the face.”
“I had no intention of doing that,” Hayward said June 27. Hayward also said he sent a letter to Megna addressing concerns raised by Cuomo’s budget director, but he declined to make the letter public.
Hayward said he has since shared with Megna the specifics of the NYRA management raises, which averaged 3%. He said the raises came after three years of no increases and cuts to the employee pension fund and higher health insurance costs.
“I don’t quibble with the points he made in the letter,” Hayward said of Megna.
But Hayward said if the state’s political leaders are concerned about NYRA, “I’d ask them to reach out to their appointed members on the board.” He said all 25 board members last year approved the NYRA budget.
He also noted the decision to provide management raises was adopted 24-1; the sole trustee voting against the pay hikes was Bennett Liebman, who has since left the NYRA board to become Cuomo’s top racing and wagering adviser.
NYRA faces a projected $11.6 million deficit this year. But he said that number is skewed, in part, by the loss of revenue from the closure of NYCOTB in December.
The upcoming 40-day Saratoga meet, Hayward said, will feature an expansion of national television coverage by NBC and the VERSUS channel; NBC will offer live coverage of three Saturday stakes, including the Travers and Alabama (both gr. I). He said the television presence will help NYRA, Saratoga, and the nation’s racing industry.
Hayward wasn’t specific about possible construction plans at Saratoga, but NYRA hopes to unveil them during the Saratoga meet; much of the work, though, is expected to be on backstretch buildings.
The 143rd Saratoga meet begins July 22. It will feature 30 stakes, including 17 grade I races. NYRA expects 2,000 horses to be stabled at the track and nearby training center.