Free-Pass Bill Approved by New York Legislature

The New York Racing Association can give free passes to relatives of owners, trainers, and jockeys under a bill approved by the state legislature, but state regulators must be notified.

The practice of distributing free passes tightened after NYRA came under increasing scrutiny by state and federal officials for a variety of legal and financial irregularities. Relatives of industry participants found themselves having to pay entrance fees to Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga.

Rejected in the final bill was a push by some officials to let NYRA give free passes to whoever it wants without having to report to state regulators. In a recent letter to Sen. William Larkin, chairman of the Senate Racing Committee, the office of Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who investigated NYRA over the past several years, strongly objected to the provision. Spitzer's office noted NYRA "repeatedly violated existing law" by not reporting to regulators who was getting free passes.

Spitzer's office said it "makes sense" to give free passes to owners, trainers, jockeys, and grooms, but not others. The attorney general particularly objected to free passes being given to officers and employees of the racing board even if they aren't engaged in their official duties.

He called such a practice "particularly egregious because it requires that NYRA grant personal benefits to employees of its oversight agencies." The bill would "exacerbate, not improve, the ongoing efforts to enhance oversight of NYRA and to reform its past record of fiscal and operational improprieties."

The approved measure keeps intact current law that lets racing regulators into NYRA tracks for free, but only if on official business. State law already permits a range of others to get in without paying. The new measure added spouses, domestic partners, and children of owners, trainers, and jockeys to the list of those permitted free passes.

The measure has not yet been sent to Gov. George Pataki for his consideration. It remains uncertain whether the measure will be considered before the current Saratoga meet ends in September. The measure also would also apply to Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack, which is owned by Delaware North Corp.