FNYR Wraps Up Business; Smith Goes to 'Sidelines'

Friends of New York Racing, a consortium of industry groups and individuals that has been studying and making recommendations on the future of racing in the state, is being formally disbanded at the end of February.

The group's president, Tim Smith, said its original purpose--"research to develop a blueprint for reforming the state's racing industry and raising the public's awareness of the industry in the period leading up to the process in which a new Thoroughbred franchise will be awarded in New York"--has been accomplished.

"Friends of New York Racing was not ideally suited to be the permanent entity to do the broad-based industry advocacy long-term," Smith said.

Moreover, the dissolution of the group comes at a time when several of its benefactors could find themselves competing against each other for the New York Racing Association franchise, which expires at the end of 2007. Some individuals who belong to the group could be involved in a bidding effort, as could Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment Corp.

Smith said some of members now "have different priorities" with the bidding process becoming more formalized. A state panel recently held hearings on the franchise, and some officials are pressing to put out a request for proposal for the NYRA franchise soon. However, there is growing evidence the matter will be punted until next year after a new governor takes office in New York.

"When the RFP process starts in earnest, the same set of players that funded our work are moving on to other things," Smith said. "We just reached the end of our funding and the end of our main mission."

Smith said the state should step in and create some sort of body to represent the various interests of the racing industry in New York, a plan that would be a highly unusual move for government. Smith said the state has a vested interest in ensuring the future of the racing industry, and an advocacy group like the one he proposed could try to get around the usual competing interests that now divide the industry.

Smith said its funding could come from video lottery terminal proceeds or from a marketing account funded by the VLTs.

For his part, Smith said he plans to continue working voluntarily in the weeks ahead to help publish a series of recommendations for the legislature to consider to make major changes in the state's racing laws. Smith said he plans to spend more time at his Florida home, but insists he is not walking away from New York racing.

"I'm not going to abandon the racing reform effort, but for a time I'm going to go to the sidelines," he said.

When asked if he would be interested in becoming a part of a franchise bidding team, Smith said: "I'm actively looking to be a civilian and a free agent. I'm not planning on joining any full-time effort in any bidding entity. I'm just going to be inclined to be supportive of whichever group or groups is most likely to implement our recommendations."

Smith said had no "present plans" to join any bidding effort.

FNYR, formed a year ago, produced two major reports, held public meetings and industry-wide focus groups, conducted polls, and worked with the Racing and Wagering Program of the Government Law Center of the Albany Law School on research and reform efforts. The group has recommended the current NYRA business model, created in 1955, should be replaced with a for-profit entity.

FNYR also has pushed a plan allowing off-track betting corporations to combine with whatever new racing company takes over the franchise, and urged the placement of video lottery terminals at Belmont Park.