New York Legislation Would Tighten Licensing Standards

With scandals at the New York Racing Association having left a string of criminal convictions over the past couple years, the chairman of the Senate racing committee has proposed legislation to tighten state law to ensure convicted felons cannot obtain racing licenses in New York.

"Just as we all wouldn't want to see a convicted felon working as a teller in the neighborhood bank, I'm sure the public would be uneasy about a convicted felon being allowed to run any one of the state's racetracks," said Sen. William Larkin, an Orange County Republican.

The bill comes as federal prosecutors are getting close, state and industry sources say, to deciding whether to indict NYRA and current or former employees as part of a widening probe into its financial operations. Officials in Larkin's office said the bill is partly in response to that investigation.

The Larkin bill would apply to people involved in racing as well as video lottery terminal operations.

"Depending on their crimes, convicted felons are precluded from holding many types of jobs in New York State, but there is nothing in the law that prevents a convicted felon from owning or holding a management position at race tracks in New York State. We clearly need to change the law to protect the general public and prevent people with criminal histories from having access to the revenues generated from the racing or video lottery gaming industry," Larkin said.

In a clear recognition of the troubles surrounding NYRA, the Larkin bill also permits the state to immediately issue a new license "to a bona fide organization to replace the former Thoroughbred or harness racing licensee whose license has been revoked to ensure that race meets can continue to be held without interruption,'' according to a legislative memorandum Larkin filed in support of the measure.

It also gives the state racing board authority to remove licenses of shareholders of racing organizations if they are convicted of a felony. It gives the racing board power to approve all stock transfers of 25% or more for any racing association or corporation possessing a racing license.

"This is to ensure that all new stockholders of a racing licensee have not been convicted of a felony,'' the memo states.

The memo states that while it has been inferred over the years that convicted felons should not be involved in racing, it is time to make it "crystal clear'' in the law.

"Over the past few years, there have been investigations within New York's racing industry that may lead to criminal indictments of persons, corporations or other business entities that currently hold racing licenses," said Larkin. "It is important that we hold individuals in the racing business to the highest moral and ethical standards. This bill will help maintain a level of confidence among the betting public as well as an industry that is an important part of the New York economy."