Saratoga County

NYRA’s deal is extended

An agreement between the state and the New York Racing Association that allows NYRA to continue hors
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An agreement between the state and the New York Racing Association that allows NYRA to continue horse racing at Aqueduct through Feb. 13 didn’t thrill local officials.

“What Saratoga wants and needs is a long-term commitment,” said Saratoga Springs Supervisor Joanne Yepsen.

The agreement between NYRA, the Nonprofit Racing Oversight Board and the state announced Monday will continue racing at Aqueduct on a temporary basis while state and NYRA officials continue to negotiate a permanent solution.

NYRA has operated the Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont racetracks since the mid-1950s, but its franchise expired Dec. 31.

NYRA and the state agreed in December to continue the annual racing meet at Aqueduct through Jan. 23. Now the racing meet will continue through at least Feb. 13.

“It’s just another Band-Aid on the problem,” Yepsen said of the 26-day extension.

The summer tourism economy in Saratoga Springs is built around the annual thoroughbred horse racing meet at the historic Saratoga Race Course in late July, August and early September.

Yepsen said a long-term agreement between the state and NYRA, such as the one proposed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, is needed for a healthy local economy.

“Let’s just get it settled so Saratoga can invest in the future,” Yepsen said.

John Lee, a NYRA spokesman, said Monday that NYRA is “very hopeful” that a long-term agreement can be reached soon.

“We are increasingly getting closer,” Lee said during a telephone conversation. “But we still have a few hurdles to go.”

Last fall, Spitzer proposed a new franchise agreement that would have NYRA operating the three racetracks for another 30 years. This proposal has been debated ever since, with Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, disagreeing on various elements of the plan.

Bruno wants to have video lottery terminals installed at both Belmont and Aqueduct while Silver is opposed to having the machines installed at Belmont.

Bruno said the racing industry, the state and the local economy need the revenue that would be generated by the VLTs at Belmont as well as Aqueduct.

Thoroughbred horse trainer Richard Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, has spent that past few months in Albany lobbying for a smooth continuation of horse racing in New York state.

He said Monday the horsemen, owners and trainers need the extra revenue that VLTs would generate at Belmont.

“The Belmont slots are still in the mix,” Violette said. “Slots at both Aqueduct and Belmont are better for everybody.

“They look closer,” Violette said about the negotiations among Spitzer, Bruno, Silver and NYRA. “We want a good deal that moves racing forward and maintains New York racing as the preeminent racing in the world.”

Violette said he is optimistic a permanent solution to the racing franchise will be reached soon.

“The pressure is real and the interest is real,” Violette said about negotiations in Albany. “The horsemen need the money.”

Violette said there is a $100 million gap between what owners spend on the upkeep and racing of their horses and what is available in New York state in purse money.

“The VLTs [revenue] will breach that gap,” he said.

“But you don’t want to make a bad deal just because there is a deadline,” Violette said about the negotiations and, now, the Feb. 13 deadline.

Categories: Schenectady County

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