New York Racing Association president and CEO Chris Kay said the association's board of directors supports legislation included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive budget that would return NYRA to private control. Citing dissatisfaction with how the association was being run, Cuomo executed a state takeover of NYRA by forming a reorganization board of directors in 2012. He subsequently extended its reach beyond the original 2015 re-privatization deadline and has been under mounting criticism for failing to return to the private sector control of the organization that operates Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga.
The bill would establish a 15-person board, with six individuals selected by the governor and eight coming from the private sector, plus the sitting CEO. The first chair of the reconfigured board would be selected by the governor.
Under the legislation, which according to published reports could take effect immediately upon passage by the legislature, there would be no cap on the amount of VLT funds NYRA receives from gaming machines at Genting's casino at Aqueduct. The bill would also remove an existing barrier to night racing at Belmont Park.
“NYRA is the cornerstone of an industry that employs 17,000 people and generates more than $2 billion in annual economic impact in New York State — primarily in the important areas of agriculture and tourism,” Kay said in a statement. “Our annual summer meet at Saratoga Race Course is an engine for the Upstate economy, generating $237 million in economic activity and nearly 2,600 jobs across the greater Capital Region. As a private entity, building upon our recent progress and record of accomplishment, we look forward to growing our sport, our fan base, and our economic benefit to the State of New York.
“We appreciate the governor's support for legislation to return NYRA to private control,” said Kay. “NYRA supports this proposed legislation, which is the result of productive dialogue with the governor's office over the last several months. We look forward to working with the legislature and all stakeholders in efforts to pass the Executive's proposal.”
According to officials, NYRA in 2014 secured the company's first operating profit in 13 years through extensive cost reduction and revenue enhancement programs, paid off a $25-million loan and is debt free. NYRA produced record revenues and attendance during the 2015 and '16 Saratoga meets, created the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival and established what it says is the “industry standard” for use of digital technology with the launch of the NYRA Bets advance deposit wagering platform.
Working with 24 different labor unions, NYRA is responsible for 2,400 jobs during the peak summer season and has improved the condition for backstretch workers, officials added.
The proposed legislation also addresses drug testing by transferring funding from the state general fund to horse owners and tracks. The bill would also broaden the field of potential drug testing facilities within the state, eliminating the requirement that it be conducted at a state college with an equine science program.
Cuomo's budget proposal came on the same day the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee met in Albany. Among the hot-button issues discussed was the recent deal allowing installation of 460 gaming machines at Genting's Aqueduct casino to benefit Nassau Off-Track Betting Corp. – with none of the revenue going to purses. That represents nearly 10 percent of the devices at the casino and, according to horsemen, could shortchange purses by as much as $20 million a year.
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