Official: New York Franchise Award Remains on Schedule

The chairman of the state panel overseeing the bidding process for New York's Thoroughbred racing franchise dismissed growing speculation that the complex task of awarding a new franchise holder won't begin in earnest until next year.

"We do not intend to delay this matter at all," J. Patrick Barrett, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing, said in an interview April 17.

Barrett, a former Avis chairman, said the nine-member panel would meet soon to begin drafting a request for proposal bidders will use for the franchise rights to Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga racetracks. The current franchise, held by the New York Racing Association, expires Dec. 31, 2007.

But speculation for months at the state Capitol has been that the process would be delayed until next year, when a new governor takes office. Gov. George Pataki, who appointed Barrett to the racing panel, is leaving office at the end of the year.

"We intend to move this matter forward on a very expeditious basis," Barrett said. He could not, however, provide a specific date for when the RFP would be issued to prospective bidders. "I can't give you an exact timetable, but it's not going to be in the November or December timeframe," he said.

Racing industry insiders believe leaders of the Assembly and Senate, for different reasons, want to hold off on the franchise decision until next year. But Barrett insists he has seen no evidence of that.

"There is no indication at all among the committee's members that I could pick up that someone wants to drag their heels or slow it down," he said.

Barrett acknowledged a number of major issues remain unresolved, including whether or not NYRA, as NYRA claims, owns the land at the three racetracks or if the properties are owned by the state. But another topic not yet resolved is what kind of changes need to be made to the state's racing laws to end what NYRA officials for years have said is an unworkable business model for racing in New York.

Barrett said it is still unclear whether his panel would recommend a specific package of recommended changes to the law to the legislature. Time, though, is running short for the current legislative session, which ends June 22.

Barrett indicated the panel wouldn't split the RFP into separate proposals for the three individual tracks, which was an idea early on in the process. But he said it remains unclear whether another earlier idea--sending out three RFPs based on the depth of future changes to the state racing laws--is still on the table.

"Our intent here is to get an RFP that works, and to the extent the legislature must intervene and do what they have to do, it will up to them and the governor," Barrett said of a process that would likely have the panel make recommendations for a NYRA successor to the 212-member legislature and governor. "I don't see any obstacles to get it done."

In a process that already includes Republican and Democratic interests, as well as a who's who of racing industry insiders and well-connected lobbyists, Barrett said a delay would concern him. "I'm afraid if it slows down it gets tied up in politics," he said. "That's not our intent. We want to do what's good for racing in New York."

Bennett Liebman, coordinator of the racing and wagering law program at Albany Law School, said Barrett's committee, which has held a series of hearings since January, is not yet late in its work. "If they get this out before the end of 2006, that would certainly be timely," he said.