Wynn-Led Group Out of New York Franchise Race

A joint venture led by Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn has dropped out of the running for the franchise to run Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga. The group cited the brief timetable given by the state of New York to offer plans for the franchise.

Thoroughbred Racing – NY on March 23 notified advisers to Gov. Eliot Spitzer they were withdrawing from the bidding competition. Racing insiders saw the Wynn group as a serious contender for the franchise, and word of the withdrawal came one day after New York Racing Association president Charles Hayward said the group had approached NYRA officials about the possibility of joining forces for the rights to operate the three tracks.

The decision by Wynn and his partners--who included California developer Richard Bronson and Steve Roth, a major New York City developer--leaves five interested groups: Excelsior Racing Associates, Empire Racing Associates, NYRA, Capital Play, and Catskill Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.

Spitzer recently said he doesn’t feel bound by the recommendations of a state screening panel--appointed before he became governor this year--that said Excelsior should get the franchise. Excelsior’s partners include New York Yankees executive Steve Swindal and casino developer Richard Fields.

Spitzer said he was beginning a new process that would feature public presentations by interested bidders. He gave bidders until March 31 to submit detailed plans for the franchise. He also said bidders would have to undergo an “integrity” review by the state, and bidders were asked to pay an up-front, $100,000 fee for the review to be done by one of his investigative agencies.

“Although we are aware of the state’s rationale for requiring a very short timetable, we have concluded that it is not possible for us to provide all of the detailed information sought and develop a proposal our client can be proud of with the limited time period provided,” Sid Davidoff, a lawyer representing the Wynn team, wrote to state officials March 23.

Davidoff said the partners in the group have a history of being able to complete complicated and large projects, and said the group envisioned creating an international entertainment destination with the tracks. Wynn last year was one of 16 groups that expressed initial interest in the franchise, but then he did not submit a formal proposal.

The new Wynn team did not have any racetrack partners, but said it was looking to join together with a racing group to make a bid on the franchise. Hayward said members close to the Wynn team did reach out to some NYRA trustees.

“NYRA has received some inquiries from representatives of the Wynn group,” Hayward said March 22. He described them as only informal talks.

Hayward also made clear NYRA has every intention of keeping with its current partner, MGM Mirage, in the long-stalled plan to bring video lottery terminals to Aqueduct. NYRA, which is operating under bankruptcy protection, has a court date the week of March 26 to get the Aqueduct casino approved by a federal judge. That can only happen, though, if NYRA can make a deal with the state before then to permit the project to go forward.

Hayward said recent talks with the state have been “refreshingly collaborative.”

The Aqueduct casino, originally supposed to cost $160 million, recently grew in cost estimates from $190 million to now about $215 million, Hayward said. The NYRA franchise expires Dec. 31.