Legislators Urge Cuomo To Privatize NYRA

by | 07.27.2015 | 4:40pm
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Thirteen members of the New York State Legislature have written to Gov. Andrew Cuomo with their concerns about the long-term future of horse racing in the state and to urge the governor to transition the New York Racing Association from its current Reorganization Board back to a nonprofit association.

“We are writing to you about an issue of importance for the future of horse racing in New York State, as well as for Saratoga Springs and the Capital Region,” states the letter signed by six state Senators and seven members of the Assembly. Among the signees are Republican John J. Bonacic, chairman of the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, and Democrat J. Gary Pretlow, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Gaming and Wagering.

“In 2012, the New York Racing Associaiton Reorganization Board was established for a three-year period,” the letter continues. “The 2015-16 State Budget extended the maximum term of this Board for an additional year.

“However, we feel it is important to move as quickly as possible to transition back to a nonprofit racing association. The Reorganization Board has done a good job and served its purpose, but the continuation of this temporary board is now raising serious concerns about its ability to make the necessary long-term decisions and planning that are essential for the continued success and stability of the horse racing industry.

“In particular, we are very concerned about the potential negative impact on Saratoga Race Course, which is the crown jewel of racing and an essential part of the local community. As an example of the local concerns being expressed, please see the enclosed resolution by the Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing, as well as an editorial by a local newspaper.

“We urge your attention to this matter, and request that actions be taken now to ensure that thoroughbred racing operations are returned to a revitalized NYRA as soon as possible. We look forward to working with you on this matter and other initiatives to maintain and improve New York's horse racing industry.”

The July 23 letter was signed by, in addition to Bonacic and Pretlow; Senators Hugh T. Farley; Kathleen A. Marchione; George A. Amedore Jr.; Neil D. Breslin; Elizabeth O'C.Little; and Assembly members Carrie Woerner; Patricia A. Fahy; John T. McDonald III; Angelo Santabarbara; Daniel Stec; and James N. Tedisco.

The Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing, organized by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, includes local business people (hotel and restaurant owners, bankers, Realtors, CPA's), horse owners, trainers, breeders, and veterinarians. Among its members is Charles Wait, CEO of Saratoga-headquartered Adirondack Trust Company. Wait, a longtime NYRA trustee who resigned from the Reorganization Board in April, told Albany Business Review that Cuomo “reneged on his promise” to reprivatize NYRA. “There's fear that the state may try to re-privatize it as a for-profit group and then sell it,” Wait said. “It's very important that doesn't happen.”

Here is the resolution adopted by the Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing calling for the privatization of NYRA as a non-profit organization by the end of 2015.

  • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

    Pretty sure this letter will be met with as much enthusiasm as the Guv’s intentions of sitting in the box seat reserved for him at Aqueduct…

    • Michael Castellano

      The one with the sea gull?

      • Figless

        The gull could do a better job

        • Michael Castellano

          Gets free admission too.

          • Figless

            And free snacks, and knows how to get from track to track without a GPS

    • One empty seat among thousands.

  • paul cassidy

    Good move here, needs to happen. Enough of the “Howdy Doody” administration. The only things that changes are prices.

  • Hamish

    What misdeeds occurred that enabled Cuomo to takeover the NYRA board when he did? Did whatever went wrong at that time, give Cuomo the authority to swipe the racing franchise from the New/Old NYRA and sell it to the highest bidder to the benefit of the State of NY? It is confusing as to what can and can not be done here in terms of “re-privitization,” whatever that means.

    • Figless

      Its a REAL long story, there are protections to the existing franchise but loopholes exist and who at NYRA (old or new) would be willing to fight the legal battle to keep the franchise? There is no one with a vested interest other than horsemen so whatever Cuomo wants Cuomo gets. And what politicians always want are campaign contributions (aka legal bribery) and the best way to legally line his coffers is to open this up for bidding again.

  • 4Bellwether666

    Charlie is waiting in the wings!!!…

  • Michael Castellano

    There is zero chance that Cuomo will do something in the best interests of racing in NY. He is a typical gas bag politician who will consult the way in which the political winds blow, and will do whatever is in HIS best political interests.

  • Jay Stone

    The only answer to the train wreck that is NYRA is for it to opened to bidding by private groups. The purse money that is fueled by casinos is eventually going to disappear and the only way NY racing can prosper is to get it in private hands and take some of the politics out of it.

    • Sal Carcia

      So, would you like Churchill or Stronach to buy it? I can see lots of problems with both. But, I won’t get into it for now. Also, the government and politics will not go away as long as racing is a regulated industry.

      • Jay Stone

        The politics I refer to is not the racing commission or gaming commission which regulates racing but the petty politics involved the last few years. My thoughts on private control would lean more toward Stronach, who despite his detractors, is still the best advocate the industry has left. Whatever the profit or loss they now have,depending on accounting practices, NYRA needs an infusion of new blood which private ownership would bring.

        • salthebarber

          Jay, the reason why Cuomo took over was because he didn’t want Hayward fighting him at every turn in the Governor’s effort to bring casinos to NY. More specifically, Cuomo was planning to make Aqueduct the NYC casino and he wanted Hayward out of the way. It hasn’t taken place yet.

          With respect to Stronach, he noted in a trip to Saratoga that the place just had to much empty space. He felt he could find a better all year round use of the land. Does that sound familiar?

          • Hamish

            So Charlie is in fact out of the way, but per existing NY law, Aqueduct can never get a full casino.

          • Sal Carcia

            Hamish, I would say it is a convenient fact. None of the oversight agencies were ever held responsible for the violation on this law. Oh, the members of these organizations were populated by Cuomo appointees. Hamish, the removal of Hayward was nothing more than a political coup.

            With respect to the NYC Casino, Cuomo took a $2m donation from Genting about the same time he removed Hayward. This was a subject of a NYTimes editorial. It poured cold water on Cuomo’s plans.

    • Figless

      If by train wreck you mean the current appointed board that has achieved its mandate of making the racing product profitable on its own, in order for it to be “re-privatized”, then wait to see what happens when a CD or Stronarch or worse some Casino group get hold of Saratoga.

      • Hamish

        I seem to recall that the primary reason that the NYRA P & L statements show a racing profit is that the pension plan payments have been backed out of racing operating expenses and are now in some other area being offset by the operating subsidy from the VLT’s? If this is the case and please correct me if wrong, seems unfair to compare the current financial structure to years when pension payments were considered as a cost of doing business contributing to the NYRA’s losses..

        • Dakin

          Hamish you are spot on with the legacy costs any buyer would inherit. That is one of the reasons NYRA has no interested buyers.

  • davidhc3

    The private sector is not the answer; it can cause more chaos. Look at what
    happened to Hollywood Park. It was sold by Hubbard to Churchill Downs; instead
    of keeping it a race track, C.D. sold the track down the river. It sold it to
    land developers, the same ones that tore down Bay Meadows.

    What a private group most likely will do is get the biggest bang
    for the buck. Without anyone representing the public horse racing interests,
    the group or person that would buy the NYRA could sell out the property, which
    would produce more profit than the race tracks. The land developers tore town
    Hollywood Park Race Track, one of the greatest tracks in this country. With
    real estate values going up, again, they plan to build high end condos or use
    it for other non-horse racing purposes.

    The example of Hollywood Park Race Track should not be ignored. When one
    track is sold or tore down by private groups, the entire industry and the
    racing public loses

    • UKBlue

      You pretty much summed it up; that NY land is worth a lot of money. Also don’t forget the same Hollywood Park group 1st did it to Bay Meadows; so Churchill knew they were sending HP to it’s death. The reason why so many horse people in Cal are pissed at CD.

      • Tinky


        • Figless

          Correct the new group would be a franchise deal which is why new NYRA is doing everything to make it profitable, complaints from the public be damned.

          But any outside bidder will want nothing to do with Big A and Cuomo’s buddy’s have long had their eyes on THAT land, which is why many including myself have long predicted Big A will be shuttered soon.

          • Tinky

            While I agree that NY would like very much to re-purpose that valuable parcel, there remains the very sticky dual problems of where to house the AQU trainers and their horses, and were to conduct winter racing.

            As I have pointed out many times before, it would be hellishly difficult and expensive to retrofit Belmont, and I’m not even sure that it would be possible without tearing down the existing structure.

          • johnnyknj

            I don’t think “winter” (January and February) racing will be part of the future in NY. Eliminating it makes sense from a P&L standpoint and makes Aqueduct expendable, which obviously helps the State balance sheet.

          • Tinky

            I think it would be better for the long-term health of the industry to eliminate winter racing in NY. Realistically, though, there will be howls of dismay from many trainers, owners, and all of those involved in the (currently over-compensated) NY-bred program.

            In other words, I’m not sure how easy it would be to make the change.

  • pallyhubris

    A private for profit co. would also have to consider that the franchise is sort of like
    the USPS model. They can not shape their own business plan in re racing, rather the R&W board calls all the shots. Btw,CD has demonstrated that they are no longer in the racing
    biz, that leaves Frank.

  • Casino influence will determine the gate of NYRA. Whatever they want to happen likely will happen

    • Ernest Vincent

      Can they, casino, get out of paying purses if a private franchise operates NYRA and State owns the property?

      • Sal Carcia

        Ernest, I believe the Genting operation is a racino. It is an important distinction because casinos do not give back subsidies to the NYRA. If for some reason the Genting operation is upgraded to a casino status, then they will no longer be obligated to pay subsidies to racing.

        I suspect any private organization’s purchase agreement will call for the subsidies to remain in place.

        • Ernest Vincent

          Using the term racino as Aquduct is in relationship to NYRA -in that racino provides NYRA track(s) purses including Saratoga and Belmont.

          Now say, NYRA leaves the governance of the State of New York and a private for profit takes over NYRA racing. In effect the state franchises the NYRA circuit.
          Highly unlikely the state would sell the land.
          More like an operating franchise.

          Do the horsemen still have a contract with the present racino to pay purses beyond the new franchise running the NYRA tracks?

          I agree with you the purse money would likely be from the racino (still on NY State property)… and what a political mess it’s going to be to pick the franchise people.

    • kim

      casinos rule the games everywhere

  • Ernest Vincent

    If the Casino(s) and mainly the Aqueduct casino have an out to not pay the substantial purses for NYRA racing circuit, of course they’d say thank you very much. But they got in at Big a with agreement with horsemen. The horsemen are not going to bow to a private operation business shrinking purse by 50%.
    They went up about 44% when the Casinos started paying the tab.
    Now if the deal for NYRA was a private one, and purses had to be sustained by a business operation/takeout, this circuit would implode to the NadaRacingAssociation.

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