A state government panel Dec. 17 approved letting the New York Racing Association continue running racing on a temporary basis until officials can agree on a new franchise-holder for Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga.
But the action by the Non-Profit Racing Association Oversight Board does not guarantee racing will continue Jan. 1, 2008, because NYRA still needs to sign off on the temporary extension.
In a statement relased a few hours after the oversight board meeting, NYRA said it's "confident that an agreed memorandum of understanding and legislation will be achieved. NYRA will continue to work cooperatively toward that end. NYRA’s attorneys are reviewing the resolution adopted by the Non-Profit Racing Oversight Board to determine an appropriate course of action."
Carole Stone, chairwoman of the oversight panel, said if NYRA does not agree, the board has the authority to enter into a contract with another operator to keep racing going. But NYRA officials have said that could be a problem because NYRA claims, in its bankruptcy case, that it owns the land on which the racetracks sit and that the state could not let another operator onto the property to run racing.
NYRA president Charles Hayward told The Blood-Horse Dec. 15 NYRA could be willing to go along with a temporary extension. But he said NYRA officials want some assurances a deal is in the works by the Spitzer administration and legislative leaders to resolve the franchise issue; he expressed concerns an extension could take the heat off of negotiations under way at the Capitol.
In those talks, NYRA would continue as the operator, but the sides are apart on whether some of its non-racing business would be taken away, how long the new franchise would last, and whether the current NYRA board would have to resign.
Hayward also said NYRA, in negotiating a temporary extension, does not want to do anything that could jeopardize its ongoing bankruptcy case in case talks fall apart and NYRA goes back to the federal bankruptcy court judge for a ruling on its land claims.
The oversight panel said the temporary deal with NYRA would begin Jan. 1 and end upon the selection by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the legislature of a new franchise operator. It gave no end date to the extension.
If NYRA refuses the extension, Stone, who was appointed to the post by former Gov. George Pataki, would have the authority to enter a deal with a different company for a temporary period to run racing.
“The first course of action as a board is to work out an agreement with NYRA,’’ Stone said, noting it’s “the most likely’’ way to ensure racing does not shut down when NYRA’s current franchise expires Dec. 31.
Failing that, Stone said the board should approve “whatever necessary’’ is needed to keep racing going. The resolution was approved unanimously.
Capital Play, an Australian company that bid for the three-track franchise earlier this year, responded to the oversight board's decision.
“For over 50 years, NYRA has accumulated multimillion-dollar deficits, seen the federal indictment of top administrators, and plunged into bankruptcy, relying on taxpayers across the state to continually bail itself out of trouble," Capital Play chief executive officer Karl O'Farrell said in a statement. "NYRA claims that it would be willing to accept an extension by the oversight board if it is given assurances that a long-term deal with the legislature is in the works. It is obvious that NYRA is only concerned with what is in its best interest and not in what would continue racing in New York.
"Capital Play does not want to see racing go dark. We have offered a comprehensive proposal that would bring profitability back to New York’s once-vibrant racing industry."