NYRA, Empire, Excelsior Submit Racing Bids

The first bids for the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga for 20 years beginning in 2008 were submitted Aug. 29 by the current operator and two groups that included developers and casino and racetrack companies allied with Thoroughbred owners and breeders.

The New York Racing Association, which has held the franchise since 1955, was the first to file and was followed by Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based Empire Racing Associates. The state won't release details of the proposals, more of which were expected later in the day.

"Once a bid is in, and ours was in very early this morning, we can't comment on aspects of it," NYRA president and chief executive officer Charles Hayward said.

Hayward is part of a new management team that saved NYRA from a federal indictment after years of state and federal charges of mismanagement and corruption. During that time, several mutuel clerks were convicted in tax-evasion and money-laundering cases, and NYRA was criticized for providing too little revenue to the state.

NYRA contends it gets to keep too little of the money bet on races under the current franchise deal, which was written before an explosion in competition from televised races, off-track betting, and casino gambling.

"Our plan ensures New Yorkers will have their hands on the reins of New York racing and New York horsemen will play the major role in shaping racing's future," said Empire Racing CEO Jeff Perlee, who formerly headed the state Lottery Division. "Our combination of home-grown control and an impressive team of world-class operators is the best solution for reviving New York racing--to improve racing and create jobs and economic growth for New Yorkers."

Last year, the state provided a $30-million bailout to help keep NYRA afloat into 2007.

The state also created the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing in New York to determine which bidder would best run the franchise. It will receive the bids from some of the more than dozen coalitions that were interested in bidding, said committee spokesman Scott Reif. The bids were due in Albany by 5 p.m. EDT.

Keeping details of the bids secret "permits the members to conduct their review in a deliberate, reasoned manner without being subject to a lobbying campaign, directly or indirectly," Reif said.

Empire Racing, based in the city where Saratoga Race Course is located, is a group that includes Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment Corp., as well as horse owners and breeders.

Excelsior Racing Associates also submitted a bid. The group is led by New York Yankees partner Steve Swindal and casino developer Richard Fields. The group includes major New York developer Tishman Speyer Properties, which is part owner of Rockefeller Center and has investments in other landmark properties in New York City.

Swindal said his group would increase revenue and purses by putting video lottery terminals at tracks other than Saratoga, and enhancing restaurant and other facilities at all three tracks.

NYRA's franchise expires Dec. 31, 2007. The committee is scheduled to make its recommendations to Gov. George Pataki and the legislature by Sept. 29. The franchise, however, may not be awarded until next year.