Head of New York Panel on Racing Pushes for Release of Bid Package

The head of the New York panel overseeing the bidding process for a new operator of the state's Thoroughbred racetracks is pushing to release the bidding package this week.

"I'm a businessman. I want to get this job done," said J. Patrick Barrett, a former Avis chairman who heads the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing.

Barrett said it is "very possible" the formal request for proposal package could be unveiled this week, but that last minute refinements are still being made to it.

Government sources said the inch-thick document, which has been revised at least seven times, is a complex package that will outline specific demands of bidders. But in an unusual twist for many government RFPs, it will also leave much to the creativity of bidders to propose new directions in which to take Thoroughbred racing in New York.

The franchise now held by the New York Racing Association to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga racetracks expires at the end of 2007. NYRA and a half-dozen other entities are likely to bid on the franchise individually or in newly formed partnerships.

The RFP, according to a government source with first-hand knowledge of the document, permits bidders to choose from various options as they respond to the bid. For example, they can base their bids with or without a plan to add video lottery terminals at Belmont; current law permits NYRA to have the machines only at its Aqueduct facility.

The RFP permits both for-profit and not-for-profit entities to bid on their own or with partners. The highly detailed document also will require bidders to recommend how the state's pari-mutuel law will have to be changed to enable their bid to be adopted. Bidders will have to further address what becomes of the state's off track betting corporations, such as whether current law remains as is or if changes are needed to permit collaboration between the OTBs and racetracks.

The RFP will require all bidders to be incorporated under the state's pari-mutuel law. Bidders will be required to also address various aspects of wagering, takeout levels, and taxes and fees paid to the state. Bidders must also state what physical changes they will make to the three racetracks.

Though there is talk of bids being returned by the fall, sources said the precise timetable has not yet been resolved. With Gov. George Pataki leaving office at the end of the year, there has been much speculation on efforts to delay the RFP process until a new governor takes office next year. But Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the frontrunner in the governor's race, has said he believes the process should be completed quickly.

For his part, Barrett said he has seen no delays on the part of board members on the RFP panel; the group's members include appointees from Pataki and legislative leaders. "I want to get it done and over with," said Barrett, an appointee of Pataki.

"I'm going to be very disappointed if it isn't done this year," he added.