### Spitzer Aides: NYRA Right Choice for Franchise


The Spitzer administration has defended its recommendation that the New York Racing Association run the state’s Thoroughbred racing franchise, characterizing its competitors as having financial problems, conflicts of interest, or more desire to operate gambling ventures over racing.

“We believe that the selection of NYRA best serves the policy interests of the state of New York,’’ Patrick Foye, a top economic adviser to Gov. Eliot Spitzer, told a state Senate racing committee Sept. 27 in Albany.

With Senate Republicans questioning the recommendation by the administration to give NYRA a new 30-year franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga, two senior Spitzer aides told lawmakers NYRA has reformed its operations and offered a plan to help restore the state’s racing industry, which has an impact on 35,000 jobs in the state.

Paul Francis, the governor’s budget director, said Excelsior Racing Associates has withdrawn from the bidding process because of a lack of support by the Assembly to permit video lottery terminal casinos at Aqueduct and Belmont. State law only allows a VLT facility at Aqueduct. Excelsior Racing’s backers include casino developers Steve Wynn and Richard Fields.

The chief of one of Excelsior Racing’s competitors, Jeff Perlee of Empire Racing Associates, later dismissed the claims as “a smokescreen,’’ saying he was convinced Excelsior Racing’s gambling and real estate partners are still working behind the scenes for a role at Aqueduct and Belmont.

The governor has proposed separating the racing component of the franchise from the future casino operations. While he has indicated NYRA should handle the racing, a recommendation has not been made who should operate a VLT casino at Aqueduct. NYRA’s competitors have believed the Spitzer administration wants to give the casino deal to Excelsior Racing, whose backers include individuals with political ties to the governor.

Foye and Francis would not reveal which entities have submitted bids to operate a casino at Aqueduct; the deadline for entries is Oct. 15.

Despite NYRA’s legal and financial troubles in recent years, the Spitzer aides said the organization has brought on new management teams, incorporated new integrity provisions and, despite losing millions of dollars each year, has had a couple of straight years of successful meets. NYRA is also under federal bankruptcy protection.

“Frankly, this recommendation would not have been made had the old NYRA management been in place,’’ Foye said.

The two Spitzer aides said NYRA’s competitors in the bidding process--Excelsior Racing, Empire Racing Associates, and Capital Play--had their own problems that cost them the governor’s recommendation. Foye said points were taken from Excelsior Racing because its primary interest was not in racing but the casino side of the franchise. Capital Play, he said, did not have experience running racing in the United States and also had its primary interest in the casino and simulcast business.

At issue is money--lots of it. Francis believes each Aqueduct VLT machine will collect $300 in revenue per day, rising to $400 in three years. He acknowledged, though, that VLT revenue at other tracks, including nearby Yonkers Raceway, has not met expectations.