NYRA Chief Expects Financial Tide to Turn

Newly hired New York Racing Association president and chief executive officer Charles Hayward said Nov. 22 the racing organization is close to operating in the black again.

Hayward also called for cooperation in New York, particularly between NYRA and the state's off-track betting corporations.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll not only be cash-flow positive in 2005, we'll actually be able to generate a profit," Hayward said during a meeting with reporters at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

In early November, Hayward, 54, was tabbed to replace Terry Meyocks, who resigned under pressure in September 2003 now works for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Hayward had a long career in the publishing industry and was the president and CEO of Daily Racing Form for three years until it was sold earlier this year.

This year will be the third consecutive that NYRA will lose money. According to published reports, the non-profit entity with a state franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga lost about $20 million in 2003. Under an agreement with the Justice Department, a court-appointed law firm in monitoring NYRA.

Hayward, a Saratoga Springs homeowner for 18 years, opened his visit to the city by talking about improving cooperation while having lunch with Mayor Michael Lenz, city council members, and chamber of commerce officials.

With NYRA and the OTB corporations in financial trouble, Hayward said it's time to fix a broken system. He said he believes OTB officials will come to the negotiating table.

"One thing is clear that we have to do at NYRA is be more collaborative, be willing to take criticism when it is appropriate, and if we're going to be successful in the business with regard to renewing the franchise, we need to work more closely with the industry stakeholders," Hayward said. "It's no surprise the legislature doesn't want to make decisions that are favorable to NYRA when we're maybe fighting with the OTBs, or the OTBs and NYRA are fighting with the harness tracks.

"That's not our competition. Our competition is all of the opportunities that there are out there for entertainment and other gambling endeavors."

Hayward also that in order for the stalled video lottery terminal project at Aqueduct to proceed, the legislature must rewrite a law that has been declared unconstitutional. He said MGM Mirage, NYRA's partner in the VLT parlor, is seeking assurances that its contract will be honored even if NYRA doesn't retain the franchise that expires in 2007.

Hayward said the VLT operation at Aqueduct is important beyond providing revenue to the state. He said it would assure that purses rise in New York and prevent owners and horsemen from leaving for other states where VLT money has led to purse increases. It also would help NYRA become profitable and have money for improvements.