NYRA: State Didn't Approve Sale of Land

The New York Racing Association is now saying the state comptroller didn't approve its plan to sell a large number of parcels of land at Aqueduct.

"Peter (Karches) and I did have a very productive meeting with the comptroller, but they did not opine on the issue of the land," NYRA co-chairman Steven Duncker said.

On Sept. 21, NYRA officials said Duncker and Karches, who serve as co-chairmen of NYRA, had gotten a formal approval from state Comptroller Alan Hevesi to sell the parcels. Such an approval would have been significant because there is a long-standing dispute between NYRA and the state over who owns the land upon which NYRA's three tracks sit. It promises to be a nasty debate as the NYRA franchise goes out to bid in the next year.

But Duncker said the information provided to The Blood-Horse by NYRA was inaccurate. He also said the land doesn't total 80 acres. One source said it totaled 80 parcels, but Duncker couldn't confirm that. He also said he couldn't say how much land is involved, describing it as "little parcels of land scattered throughout the neighborhood."

A secretive group interested in obtaining the NYRA franchise recently wrote to Hevesi with concerns over the pending land sale, which became apparent the week of Sept. 12 when NYRA took out a legal advertisement looking for a real estate broker who could act quickly to sell the property. The group maintains the land is not NYRA's to sell, but is instead owned by the state.

The state's new NYRA oversight board plans to investigate the matter, state officials said.

Unclear is whether NYRA has to get any approval from the state to sell the land. Duncker said NYRA plans to meet with the oversight board to discuss the matter.

When asked if NYRA needs the board's approval, he said: "I'm not sure about that." The oversight board's chairwoman, Carole Stone, hasn't responded to requests for information about the land sale.

NYRA officials had also said the money from the land sale is needed to help with costs associated with its planned video lottery terminal casino at Aqueduct. Racing insiders speculate NYRA also needs to raise money to pay the expenses of a federal monitor, Neil Getnick, who recently completed his 18-month oversight of NYRA with a favorable report that helped clear NYRA of deferred prosecution for its role in a fraud scheme by tellers. Getnick recently said he would charge NYRA $4 million to $5 million for his work.

Duncker attributed the land sale to a different reason. "The winter is lean for us in terms of cash flow, and that's really why," he said. When asked if NYRA's financial position was that precarious that it had to unload valuable land, Duncker said: "I'm not going to answer that."