Governor Cuomo Meets with NYRA Trustees

Nearly a dozen racing representatives attend preliminary meeting at Capitol.

With the New York Racing Association under increasing fire, members of its board of trustees huddled in private May 9 with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to discuss the future of the 57-year-old racing group.

C. Steven Duncker, the NYRA chairman, declined to comment on the meeting with the governor at the Albany Capitol, which broke up shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday. Nearly a dozen NYRA representatives attended the session in the governor’s Capitol suite.

Cuomo administration officials declined comment following the meeting. Earlier in the day, however, Cuomo said his administration was working on a "reform package" for NYRA, though he quickly said the discussions are "somewhat preliminary."

That’s in large part because the state Inspector General’s office is still using its subpoena power to obtain documents from NYRA as part of an investigation into the latest scandal involving the operator of the Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks.

That the NYRA leadership would be directly holding talks with the governor, and not just his aides, depicts the seriousness of the situation NYRA is facing. Also attending the session was Robert Megna, the governor’s budget director who is also the chairman of a state panel overseeing NYRA’s finances.

NYRA is under investigation to determine what officials may have known about not following the terms of a state law that required the track group to lower the takeout level on exotic bets. Auditors with state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office caught the mistake that NYRA did not lower the rate by 1% to 25% for 15 months after being required to do so by state law. The higher takeout cost bettors more than $8.5 million.

The NYRA board last week fired Charles Hayward as its president and Patrick Kehoe as counsel after an interim report by the state Racing and Wagering Board suggested the two former officials knew the takeout rate had not been properly adjusted. Hayward has denied any wrongdoing.

Legislative sources said May 9 that a number of options are on the table, including reducing the current size of the NYRA board from 25 members to 15—with eight being appointed by the governor and some number of the remaining seats by the Legislature. That would put the state ostensibly in control of NYRA, which could pose its own set of political advantages and disadvantages. It would also likely affect a current contract and franchise agreement NYRA has to operate the tracks until at least 2030.