New York OTB Bidders Down to Two; Pataki Supports Sale

The long process to name a purchaser for New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. reached an expected final step when city government narrowed the field to two final bidders: a consortium headed by the New York Racing Association, and another by Magna Entertainment.

Out of the running, sources at the state capitol said, is Nomura Securities, a Japanese investment firm. Michael Hess, the New York City Corp. counsel official who has handled the bidding process, couldn't be reached for comment Friday morning. NYRA and Magna officials also weren't available.

Meanwhile, Gov. George Pataki, in a brief interview this week, said he favors the sale of NYCOTB. Pataki, who can kill any deal when it comes to Albany for review, has been largely silent on the issue in recent months.

The Republican governor, who has been at odds with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani over the years, didn't say if he favors either side in the bidding process. "It should be privatized," Pataki said of NYCOTB.

The governor has floated a plan that would force NYRA to sell Aqueduct if it is the successful NYCOTB bidder. Thoroughbred racing insiders oppose his plan.

After months of speculation and behind-the-scenes negotiating, the Giuliani administration has advised the two remaining bidders it will make a decision on the sale by April 20.

For racing insiders, the final companies left in the bidding represents a "who's who" of the pari-mutuel industry's titans. On one side is NYRA, which has partnered with Churchill Downs Inc. and the TV Games Network. On the other is Magna and its team, which includes Greenwood Racing, which owns Philadelphia Park, and Thoroughbred owners Robert Baker and William Mack.

The two groups have launched fierce lobbying campaigns at the state capitol, where approval of any NYCOTB deal will be needed by Pataki and state lawmakers. That step is considered a tough one, legislative sources said, because of the mounting opposition to a sale by a union that represents NYCOTB employees and other off-track betting corporations in the state.

In addition, Democrats are adverse to doing much for lame-duck Republican mayor Giuliani, who wants to sell NYCOTB.