Magna to New York: 'We Are Not Going Away'

Stymied in recent efforts to enter the New York racing market, Magna Entertainment is still highly interested in moving its way into the lucrative betting state, the company's president said Aug. 6.

The only questions are how and where?

Jim McAlpine acknowledged there's not much in the way of major opportunities for the company controlled by Canadian industrialist Frank Stronach to make right now in New York. The company watched its bid to purchase New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. evaporate last year, and earlier this year, in a deal hatched "in the darkness of night," McAlpine said, the New York Racing Association had its franchise extended until 2012 to run Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga.

Before the NYRA deal, Stronach said his company would be interested in obtaining NYRA's franchise.

"But we are not going away," McAlpine told an audience of racing executives, lobbyists, government officials, and lawyers at the Saratoga Institute on Racing and Wagering Law symposium sponsored by Albany Law School.

Magna owns about 800 acres of land in western New York near Niagara Falls. Two years ago the company obtained licenses from the state to begin the process of developing the site as a racetrack. Magna then suddenly backed away from the project, citing New York's failure to permit racetracks to offer video lottery terminals.

Though the New York legislature passed a VLT law last year, McAlpine said the company still has no plans to develop the site into what company officials had talked of as a major racing and entertainment center, complete with a ferry operation across Lake Ontario to Toronto.

"We would like to be a part of New York, absolutely. It's a huge market," McAlpine said in an interview. He declined to say what projects, if any, Magna may be examining in New York, a state where NYRA, a potent political force that has clashed repeatedly with Magna over the past couple years, dominates the state racing scene. "There are always discussions going on," he said.

Even if Magna were to go ahead with developing a new racetrack in New York, it would need to amend the VLT law, which was crafted to pertain only to existing racetracks in the state.

Magna owns 10 tracks and is in the process of acquiring four others. But its stock has been battered recently and is off sharply from its yearly high, giving pause to some Wall Street investors. A few days before the conference in New York, McAlpine said Magna would be taking "a breather" from racetrack purchases.

Despite the stock market dip, McAlpine said the company is aggressively moving ahead with its ambitious plans to become a worldwide gambling company. "A lot of people thing we operate on a whim," McAlpine said. "We've got a very good game plan, and it's well thought out."

McAlpine talked of Magna's continued expansion in the account wagering and broadcasting industries as a way to bring more bettors to horse racing. He said the company's purchase of a racetrack in Austria would also include a casino and sizeable sports betting operation, but he said a European-based sports betting entity would not be taking bets from America.

Like Stronach, McAlpine also made a pitch for governments to drastically cut back on regulations that impact the racing industry. He said rules should not dictate things like hours of operation and restrictions on rebates for big bettors. Account wagering, he said, should be "broadly legalized."

"We can't fence up the Internet," McAlpine said.