Panel May Require Multiple Bids for New York Franchise

A state panel overseeing the Thoroughbred racing franchise bidding process in New York could ask potential bidders to reply to three different requests for proposal that will vary depending on the future value of the franchise.

The unusual process of having more than one bid proposal came even though state officials have given no indication there will be a major overhaul of the state's racing laws, which industry officials have said is needed to improve the health of racing in New York.

Recognizing the muddled climate in which they are asking companies to make a bid on replacing the New York Racing Association franchise to run Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing is leaning toward offering three different bidding scenarios for the franchise.

One bid would assume no changes in the existing law or structure of the NYRA, not-for-profit model. Another envisions moderate changes, and the third would be a drastic overhaul of the system. The panel didn't elaborate on what those changes might entail.

The state board, which met Feb. 13 in New York City, embraced the three-bid idea. "I think it's an excellent idea," said board member Bernadette Castro.

"I think it's a very practical solution," said Fredric Newman, another member. "If I were a potential bidder I would want to know what I am bidding on."

Newman said "some questions" remain about the franchise, not the least of which is who owns the land upon which the racetracks sit. NYRA insists it owns the land; the state says it does.

"The state owns the land," said the panel's chairman, J. Patrick Barrett.

Newman, however, said the franchise process must move along even if the land issue is not fully answered. "We can't hold up our process for that resolution," he said. "So a bidder could say, 'I'm willing to bid on this franchise assuming that (I) got the land.' And that's a very practical result."

Castro said the idea could result in a bidder vying for one, two, or three different franchise scenarios. "Pick your choice or bid on all three," she said.

But if the racing industry is envisioning major changes in the law to bolster the franchise, one influential board member sought to downplay that hope.

"I wouldn't count on any sweeping changes of state law," said Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, chairman of the Assembly racing committee who was appointed the franchise panel the week of Feb. 6. "That doesn't happen here. There could be moderate changes. There will not be massive changes in the racing and wagering law in the near future. I wouldn't count on that."