Bill Gives NYRA Some Control of Free Passes

The New York Racing Association can give free track passes to relatives of owners, trainers and jockeys, under legislation that has been given final approval by the state Legislature.

The practice was tightened after NYRA came under increasing scrutiny by state and federal officials for a variety of legal and financial irregularities. Relatives of certain racing industry people, such as spouses of horse owners, found themselves having to pay entrance fees.

The approved measure keeps intact current law that lets state 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 approval. It remains uncertain whether it will be considered before the current Saratoga racing meet ends in September. Besides NYRA's three tracks, the action would also apply to Finger Lakes Race Track.

Rejected in the final bill was a push by some officials to let NYRA give free passes to whomever it wants without having to report to state regulators. The GOP-led Senate had a bill that would end the rule requiring NYRA to inform the state Racing and Wagering Board about who it's giving free admittance to at its tracks.

In a recent letter to Sen. William Larkin, chairman of the Senate racing committee, the office of Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who has investigated NYRA over the past several years, strongly objected to that Senate proposal. Spitzer's office noted that 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 state racing board when they aren't engaged in their official duties, calling such 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.''