Woodbine Joins Empire Racing's Bid for New York Racing Franchise

Empire Racing Associates has added another potent partner, Woodbine Entertainment Group, to its team vying to take over the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks.

Empire, which has prided itself on the New York roots of its horsemen members, turned to the Canadian racetrack giant as 16 groups in all are in the midst of rushing to submit their bids by the end of August for the franchise now held by the New York Racing Association. The franchise expires December 31, 2007.

"Empire Racing is New York's home-grown solution. Now we're excited to add world class talent, expertise, and a truly international perspective to our team to make New York the world capital of horse racing," said Jeff Perlee, Empire Racing's chief executive officer. The addition of Woodbine comes after Delaware North Cos. recently joined the Empire efforts.

Empire officials said Woodbine representatives will not sit on the group's board of directors, but will help develop a "state-of-the-art'' operational plan for Aqueduct and Belmont racetracks.

Woodbine will also have a financial position with the Empire group, though a spokesman for the New York organization, Glen Mathes, could not immediately provide details about the investment. He noted the board approved a provision that no outside company could hold more than an 8% share in Empire. "Their interest is substantially less,'' he said.

Perlee could not be immediately reached for details on the financial arrangement.

"Woodbine's achievements present a tremendous model for New York racing," Empire Racing chairman Jeffrey Tucker said in a written statement. "They have integrated new gaming at their tracks while offering a world class racing experience and, most importantly, they are successful and growing.''

"We're delighted to assist Empire Racing as they develop their plan for the future of New York racing," said David Willmot, Chairman and CEO of Woodbine Entertainment Group. "They have a clear commitment to the racing industry as a whole and, in our minds, are well suited to operate New York racing for the benefit of New Yorkers and as an integral part of the entire North American racing industry."

Woodbine, which employs 2,700 people, runs the Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto and the Mohawk Racetrack in Southern Ontario. The company runs video lottery terminal casinos at the two tracks, and they are expected to bring their expertise to Empire with a plan to bring VLTs to Belmont. Aqueduct has already been approved by the state Legislature for VLTs; construction on the new casino has yet to begin, though, as NYRA awaits final approval from the state Lottery Commission.

Woodbine also owns 27 off-track wagering operations and runs a telephone, internet and wireless account wagering system.