Magna Remains Interested in New York Racing Franchise

Magna Entertainment Corp. is still very much interested in entering the New York racing market, and would seek to obtain, if it becomes available, the New York Racing Association franchise, the head of the company said Aug. 5.

With the NYRA franchise under increasing attack as the association deals with federal and state investigations, MEC has been said by racing industry sources to be quietly putting our feelers to inform officials it would be available to run the tracks if NYRA disappears.

"I don't think we have to put out any feelers," said Jim McAlpine, president and chief executive officer of MEC. "Everyone knows we have an interest in participating in the Northeast at some stage. It's the number one market we're absent from.''

McAlpine said he did not want to "feed on anyone's misfortunes," but he noted MEC several years ago made clear "that if at some stage the NYRA franchise came up for bid, we'd be interested in looking at it." That interest level has not changed, McAlpine said during an interview in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He was in town for an Albany Law School conference on racing.

When asked if he was concerned about the controversy swirling around NYRA, McAlpine said: "I'm concerned about anything that negatively impacts our industry."

On NYRA's ever-expanding troubles, McAlpine said "anything negative is potentially harmful for the industry." He called the situation involving NYRA "very complex."

MEC had beat out NYRA a couple years ago in a bid to purchase the New York City Off-Track Betting Corp, but the sale was scuttled. MEC chairman Frank Stronach made it clear at the time the company also wanted to make other inroads in New York--including getting NYRA's franchise.

MEC has been talked about in racing circles as one entity that could emerge to take over the franchise. State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, in a recent report about NYRA's internal operations, called on state officials to consider removing NYRA and establishing some other mechanism--possible private ownership--to run Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga. NYRA is a not-for-profit entity.

NYRA could lose its franchise if federal prosecutors indict the company. The U.S. Attorney's office has been looking at a number of issues, including a climate within NYRA that permitted recent corruption scandals involving tellers. NYRA's lawyers and prosecutors were meeting in New York Aug. 5 to discuss the ongoing probe.

NYRA spokesman Bill Nader said there would be no comment on the meeting.