New York Racing Committee to Remain in Place

The leader of New York's Senate has backed off from an earlier decision to eliminate a committee charged with oversight of the racing industry.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno had decided earlier this week to scrap the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee and move its chairman, William Larkin, to the Senate Ethics Committee. But on Wednesday afternoon, a Bruno spokesman, John McArdle, said that "after careful consideration, Senator Bruno decided to keep the committee as a standing committee and keep Senator Larkin as chairman."

He did not give a specific reason for the change.

Racing industry insiders had seen the move to do away with the committee as merely formalizing what everyone at the state Capitol knows: Bruno, an
avid Thoroughbred fan who has owned shares in racehorses, controls all
racing legislation and leaves little in the way of substance for the committee to tackle on its own.

The unusual move earlier this week left some industry insiders scratching their heads why a panel that could be facing a series of major issues -- from the possible sale of New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. to expansion of betting options at racetracks and off-track parlors -- would be suddenly shut down. Last year, some of the panel's Democratic members went after Gov. George Pataki's nomination last year for a vacancy on the state Racing and Wagering Board.

McArdle had insisted the earlier plan to scrap the committee was not a signal of a declining interest in racing issues on the Senate's part. Indeed, Bruno is one of the Thoroughbred industry's greatest boosters in New York. He said there was not a need to appoint a new racing committee chairman "since on many of the racing issues Senate Bruno has taken a personal interest in."

In fact, much of the racing legislation to come out of the Senate has come from Bruno himself, and not the racing committee. Bruno, who is close with the New York Racing Association, has been advised on racing issues for several years by Jerry Bilinski, the state's former chief regulator at the racing board.