New York Franchise Bidders Get March 31 Deadline

Bidders interested in obtaining the franchise to run New York’s major Thoroughbred racetracks will have to submit their plans to the state by March 31 and be prepared to face an “integrity review” by New York’s inspector general.

Details of the Spitzer administration’s plans were revealed in a letter to the six groups that have expressed a desire to run Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga. The letter to the groups, signed by Richard Rifkin, special counsel to Gov. Eliot Spitzer, said the governor expects to make a decision on his choice for the franchise on or about May 25.

“It should be noted that the governor reserves his right to reject all proposals in the event that no entry demonstrates the required character, the ability to operate the tracks in a manner he deems satisfactory or provides sufficient value to the state,” Rifkin wrote.

The Spitzer adviser gave the groups a March 31 deadline to submit their detailed proposals and offers for the franchise, which is now held by the New York Racing Association and expires at the end of the year. The groups will then present their plans in a public forum April 10-11 at a place not yet selected.

The administration said the three groups that already went through the bidding process last year with a state screening panel--Excelsior Racing Associates, Empire Racing Associates, and NYRA--do not have to submit anything further in writing unless they want to amend their earlier bids.

Also vying for the franchise is a new entry, which is led by Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn, along with Capital Play, an Australian firm, and Catskill Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.

Rifkin said the state’s strict new procurement procedures will cover the franchise process, which limits the kinds of contact the bidders can have with the Spitzer administration. Moreover, he said the governor has decided each of the bidders will undergo a review by the state inspector general’s office, which can include data searches, interviews, and other background checks. Costs of the “integrity review” will be paid for by the bidders.

“Failure to fully cooperate will result in disqualification,” Rifkin wrote.

Spitzer, who took office in January, has said he will not be bound by the recommendations last year by a state screening panel that backed Excelsior’s bid. Excelsior’s partners include New York Yankees executive Steve Swindal and casino developer Richard Fields; Empire, the runner-up in that process last year, includes Magna Entertainment Corp., Churchill Downs Inc., a group of New York horsemen; and others.

"An independent integrity review is essential to ensuring public confidence in racing and is a critical part of our effort to reinvigorate this important industry. The next operator's background will receive multiple layers of scrutiny and evaluation,'' Spitzer said in a statement.