Spitzer: Award Franchise 'As Rapidly As Possible'

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the frontrunner in the New York governor's race, said he wants the franchise to run Thoroughbred racing in the state to be awarded sooner than later, and indicated the decision doesn't have to wait until the next governor takes over in 2007.

Industry insiders and some lawmakers and lobbyists have theorized Spitzer wants the franchise process slowed down so that in case he wins the governor's race in November, he has the final determination over the next holder of the franchise to run Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga.

But Spitzer on May 8 appeared publicly satisfied to let the matter be settled while Gov. George Pataki is still in office, though he quickly added that a number of major issues have yet to be addressed with the clock ticking on the New York Racing Association franchise that expires Dec. 31, 2007.

"I would like to see it done as rapidly as possible, as long as it is done properly," said Spitzer, whose office has led investigations over the years into wrongdoing at NYRA. "I never want to say delay anything for the sake of delay. If (the bidding process) is going to be done improperly, I will get very upset."

Spitzer didn't define his idea of a proper bidding process.

The Democratic attorney general sent mixed signals about NYRA. He talked of the New York racing industry still being thought of as "the center of racing," which he said is "good news because it means there is an enormous opportunity to take advantage of racing as a growth industry."

"It's a beautiful sport," he said of horse racing. "It has enormous economic benefits to any state that cultivates it properly."

But then Spitzer said: "NYRA has been a disaster in terms of its failure to capitalize on the opportunities that have been presented at the tracks, so we will hopefully be in a position to restructure and get that economic upside."

Spitzer, in an interview with reporters, also defended his past probes of NYRA. He said the investigations and subsequent oversight of NYRA by an outside monitor "generated good results."

"I think the process of running NYRA is now much improved," Spitzer said. "But the fundamental issue of what governing structure is put in place next remains to be resolved. The relationship with (off-track betting corporations) needs to be resolved. There are many fundamental questions that have not yet been answered, and we'd like to see the smartest minds in racing and economic development try to figure them out."