The New York Racing Association's return to re-privatization may be in a holding pattern, but NYRA is hardly standing still as it waits to learn what the next iteration of organization will look like.
At a meeting in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Aug. 10, executives detailed initiatives designed to meet NYRA's oft-stated goals of increasing revenue and of improving the customer experience and the racing product, among them NYRA's new national wagering platform; the expansion of the Saratoga Season Perks program; and the creation of "Saratoga Live," a national daily television show that airs on multiple media outlets.
Board vice chairman Michael Del Giudice opened the meeting by saying that discussions about re-privatization would resume in the fall with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office and the state legislature, with the hope the matter would be resolved early in 2017.
"It's our number one priority for next year," he said.
Though NYRA was scheduled to return to private control in the spring of 2015, Cuomo has twice extended, each time for a year, the state's authority over the organization.
"I think we're 100% ready (to re-privatize)," Del Giudice said after the meeting. "The safety statistics, the ability of the organization to run the track properly, the numbers in terms of attendance, the ability to attract racing fans and betting, and all of the new improvements we're making. I think over the last three or four years, it has moved like a quarter of a century in terms of the benefits that have occurred as a result of the re-organization."
Del Giudice identified as sticking points the number of members that would be on the next board and by whom they would be appointed, and whether the amount of video lottery terminal revenue allocated to NYRA would be reduced.
The board also announced the appointment of a new chief financial officer, Gordon Lavalette, who worked previously for the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League and the New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association. Lavalette reported all-sources pari-mutuel handle of $264.3 million through the first 16 days of the Saratoga Race Course meet, up $3.9 million from the same period last year.
Through the second quarter, which included the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (gr. I) and had four fewer race days than last year, handle was $691 million—essentially flat. Average field size increased from 7.4 last year to 7.8 this year.
Marc Holliday, chair of the board's equine safety committee, reported that the committee had met with the Dr. Scott Palmer, New York State's equine medical director, to discuss exploring the possibility of creating a "super lab" to replace the current testing facilities in the state. They also talked about the ways an upcoming report on fatalities in New York might be used to implement courses of action to further reduce catastrophic injuries.