Deal keeps NYRA in play

On the day the New York Racing Association’s franchise expired, a deal was reached Monday that will
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Categories: Schenectady County

On the day the New York Racing Association’s franchise expired, a deal was reached Monday that will keep NYRA running the Aqueduct Race Track in Queens at least through Jan. 23.

What happens after that is uncertain, although according to a statement from Gov. Eliot Spitzer, “it is expected that NYRA will continue to run racing under a new permanent franchise.” Also on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, issued a statement conceding that “NYRA will continue to run racing.”

Monday’s temporary agreement is a stipulation in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, signed by NYRA, the Nonprofit Racing Oversight Board, and the attorney general’s office, which represented the state. With the expiration of the franchise, authority to run racing falls today to the Oversight Board, which had authorized its chairman to make a deal with NYRA.

The Oversight Board is giving NYRA the authority to take bets, and NYRA is agreeing to keep Aqueduct open.

NYRA Chairman Steven Duncker issued a statement saying: “NYRA has reached an agreement with the Oversight Board and the state to continue racing at Aqueduct on a temporary basis through January 23.” NYRA had been suggesting it might close Aqueduct if state leaders did not agree to give it a long-term franchise.

NYRA spokesman John Lee did not respond to a question about whether NYRA might close Aqueduct after Jan. 23 if no long-term deal has been reached by then. Spitzer spokesman Jeffrey Gordon declined to comment on that possibility.

Monday’s agreement is a revision of the initial stipulation, agreed to last Thursday, which had to be changed because the Racing and Wagering Board declined to go along with it, saying its action was not authorized or required. The Racing and Wagering Board last week approved NYRA’s race dates for January, on condition that NYRA reached an agreement with the Oversight Board.

NYRA’s schedule calls for racing at Aqueduct until April 27, at Belmont Park from April 30 to July 20, and at Saratoga Race Course from July 23 to Sept. 1, before going back to Belmont and Aqueduct in the last part of the year.

Spitzer has proposed a new 30-year franchise for NYRA. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, on Monday indicated he is prepared to accept NYRA, but also indicated substantive differences remain between the Senate leader and the governor.

Bruno’s statement said he had hoped to announce a long-term deal Monday, but “those efforts were hindered by NYRA’s intransigence on remaining issues that would assure accountability and oversight to prevent the mistakes of the past from occurring in the future.

“ … Negotiations have been very constructive over the last several weeks. However, we have been unable to get the governor’s staff to meet with us since Friday in an effort to resolve remaining differences.” Bruno called again for “a reconstituted NYRA board” and for public negotiations on racing between the governor and legislative leaders. Also, his statement said, “any franchise agreement must include reviews every three years to provide greater accountability, transparency and oversight. We must also put in place guarantees for the horsemen that purses will be sufficient to ensure the best quality racing. And we must include community input by host communities on development and other issues going forward.”

Spitzer’s statement said he was “pleased that all parties are embracing a construct for racing that is consistent with the goals I’ve previously outlined and includes a long-term franchise for NYRA as a not-for-profit entity whose sole interest is the improvement of racing in New York state. I look forward to finalizing franchise legislation for presentation to the Legislature in January.”

If Bruno and Spitzer do reach agreement on racing legislation, it will be their first substantive agreement since the summer, although the Senate has confirmed many Spitzer appointees. Saratoga Race Course, by far NYRA’s most profitable track, is in Saratoga Springs, which is in Bruno’s Senate district.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, is backing Spitzer, while staking out positions to keep racing at Aqueduct and to block the installation of video lottery terminals at Belmont.

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