Horsemen's Bill Introduced in New York Senate

Two weeks after floating its legislative proposal around the state Capitol, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association has found a legislator to introduce a measure that would force the New York Racing Association to reimburse millions of dollars it borrowed from the horsemen's purse account.

Sen. William Larkin, a Republican who chairs the Senate's racing committee, introduced the measure, almost word-for-word to the proposal made earlier this month by the horsemen's group.

Besides requiring NYRA to make the purse account whole, the measure proposes a number of "sunshine" provisions to provide greater transparency to the NYRA operations. It requires NYRA board meetings be open, that financial documents be made public, and gives the horsemen's group a seat at the trustees table.

"What the senator is trying to accomplish is that the horsemen don't seem to be very happy at the moment and they wanted a vehicle to be able to talk about these issues," said Stephen Casscles, Larkin's counsel. He said the measure was drafted by the horsemen. "And as a courtesy, we introduced the bill,'' he said.

A similar measure is expected to be introduced soon by Assemblyman Alexander Gromack, a Democrat who chairs the Assembly racing committee.

Sources in and out of government, though, don't believe the measure has much chance for passage. However, with NYRA pressing to get its franchise extended – it now expires in 2007 – as a way to help secure financing for a future VLT casino at Aqueduct, officials believe some sort of reforms are going to be pressed by the state on to NYRA.

The racing entity, after several years of state and federal investigations, was indicted several months ago for its involvement in tax evasion schemes by employees; the prosecution was deferred if it keeps its operations clean during a court-ordered monitoring period.

NYRA, its finances in shambles, dug into the horsemen's purse account and borrowed about $14 million; the horsemen said last fall the amount had grown to $20 million. NYRA vowed to repay, but horsemen are pressing to get the state to require the payback.

The Blood-Horse earlier this month reported the 21-page plan floated to lawmakers by the horsemen, who want to slap a lien on NYRA's properties if the money is not refunded. The plan also includes appointment of a state overseer of a separate account into which future purse money would be deposited. The measures, according to a memo drafted by the horsemen, are intended to make NYRA "more accountable to the betting public and the racing industry."