Legislature May Adjourn Before Franchisee Selected

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer raised the possibility that a decision on who will be the next Thoroughbred racing franchise-holder in the state might not be made before the legislature ends its session near the end of June.

With the clock ticking before lawmakers end their 2007 session June 21, Spitzer and legislative leaders gathered May 9 to discuss a range of policy priorities the sides hope to address in the next six weeks.

The issue of who will be the next holder of the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga was not on the governor’s list of priorities unveiled at the meeting, but it was on the mind of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican whose district includes Saratoga.

“New York can have the best racing in the whole world," Bruno told Spitzer during the public meeting. “That’s a priority."

Spitzer told Bruno he has a process under way to review the four bidding groups vying for the 20-year franchise.

“I would certainly hope that we can get a consensus on that," Spitzer said. "I don’t know if it is going to be in the next four or five or six weeks."

But given that the franchise is expiring Dec.31, Spitzer said the matter “is very much on the agenda."

Bidding groups have been wondering how the state will finish the job of picking a new franchise-holder--not to mention possibly major changes to the state racing law depending on the state’s plans for the next franchise--before lawmakers end their session in June. That has led to various possibilities, including a special fall session at which a new franchise-holder would be picked and approved by the legislature, or approval of an extension to the current franchise now held by the New York Racing Association until the sides can agree sometime next year.

Vying for the franchise with NYRA are Excelsior Racing Associates, Empire Racing Associates, and Capital Play. Excelsior Racing won the non-binding recommendation of a state screening panel last year before Spitzer took office; the new governor said he is using the work of the screening panel but does not feel obligated to go with the committee’s recommendation.