New York Franchise Award Recommendation May Come Tuesday

A state panel in New York is poised to recommend its choice for a new franchise holder to run racing at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga racetracks on Tuesday, Nov. 21.

The Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing has completed its major review of the three remaining bids and is leaning to vote on a franchise award at its meeting in Saratoga Springs.

State officials declined comment, but sources close to the board said the meeting will be a crucial one that will likely include a public discussion of the specific proposals made by the bidders. Two sources said they expected the committee to vote on a franchise proposal at the meeting. Another state official cautioned Monday evening that he did not expect a final vote by the panel. An official with ties to the committee said while some details of the bids could be revealed there are indications that the panel's members will not be able to reach a concensus on a final recommendation.

In the running is the current franchise holder, the New York Racing Association. It is running what could be an uphill battle against two formidable opponents: Empire Racing Associates and Excelsior Racing Associates. Empire includes New York horsemen, as well as Magna Entertainment and Churchill Downs, among others. Excelsior includes New York Yankees partner Steve Swindal, casino developer Richard Fields and others.

The state committee, which includes representatives of Gov. George Pataki and legislative leaders from the Assembly and Senate, has been poring over the bids for months.

Its decision will be, however, non-binding on the Legislature and governor.

The timing has also left matters muddled. Pataki leaves office in little more than a month; he is being replaced by Eliot Spitzer, the state's current attorney general who has been a frequent critic over the years of NYRA. Legislators on the racing committee have said a decision on a new franchise holder will not come until next year to give the governor-elect an opportunity to decide the future of the racing industry. However, there have been various theories running rampant in recent weeks at the state Capitol how the racing franchise could still somehow appear in a last-minute session by lawmakers if they return to Albany before the end of the year.

The ad hoc committee has been looking at dozens of factors in judging the bids, including fiscal health of the bidders, what types of changes needed to state law to make the thoroughbred racing model work in New York and on a plan to bring video lottery terminals to Belmont racetrack.