Oversight Panel Says NYRA May Have Options

A state oversight panel said the New York Racing Association may have some fiscal tools in its arsenal to avoid insolvency in November.

A few weeks after NYRA president Charles Hayward said the cash-flow problems were so gloomy NYRA risked insolvency by the end of November, members of the new NYRA oversight group said Oct. 31 some fiscal solutions may be at hand.

"I think they have options in play that can get them through the cash-flow (problems)," Carole Stone, head of the oversight panel, said after the group met in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Stone declined to reveal what possible solutions NYRA is considering. NYRA already has floated several plans, including selling off parcels of land around Aqueduct and some of its art holdings, and possibly scaling back retiree health insurance benefits. It has also raised the possibility of cutting purses or some racing dates.

NYRA's fiscal condition is most acute during the next six months until its spring and summertime meets heat up. "They have a serious cash-flow problem between now and April," Stone said.

Stone and New York State Racing and Wagering Board chairman Michael Hoblock said NYRA officials haven't proposed a specific land-sale deal for 80 parcels in and around Aqueduct that NYRA said is crucial to help fix its immediate money problems. "Clearly, they cannot do so without coming to us for permission," Hoblock said of any land sale.

The state and NYRA have feuded for years over which one--the state or NYRA--owns the land upon which Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga are located. Asked what his board would say if NYRA did ask permission to sell the land, Hoblock said, "I don't think I can speculate."

Stone wouldn't be specific about the immediacy of a possible fiscal meltdown. She said NYRA does, however, need a large amount--she didn't say how much--of cash infusion in November to help it stay solvent.

NYRA senior vice president Bill Nader had no comment.

NYRA officials, as well as the former federal monitor, Neil Getnick, have called on state regulators to approve a plan by NYRA to offer bettors a rewards program similar to a frequent-flyer program. Getnick criticized the board for not acting one way or another on a matter first proposed last spring.

Hoblock said the board is still reviewing the matter. He noted, though, that opposition has come from off-track betting corporations that could be hurt by a special deal NYRA could offer its bettors.

"We have to be concerned about the impact on other licensees," Hoblock said of the OTB corporations. He said the chances are "good" for finding some sort of "middle ground" for NYRA and other licensees.

The NYRA oversight panel also was given a briefing on a pending deal between NYRA, horsemen, and breeders over how revenue from a video lottery terminal casino at Aqueduct would be shared. Individuals involved in the talks said the terms mirror the specific percentages contained in the original 2001 state law permitting VLTs at most racetracks in the state.