‘Framework’ of NYRA deal in place, Bruno says

State leaders have a “framework of an agreement” that would allow the New York Racing Association to
PHOTOGRAPHER:

State leaders have a “framework of an agreement” that would allow the New York Racing Association to continue running New York’s horse racing tracks for the next 25 years, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said Thursday.

He said the tentative agreement is expected to be final by Feb. 13, when a temporary extension of NYRA’s franchise to run the Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga thoroughbred tracks is scheduled to end.

The agreement Bruno outlined Thursday includes $105 million in state money to help NYRA out of bankruptcy court and more revenue for purses and breeders.

NYRA’s board would also be changed to provide greater oversight of the private group, which has held the franchise since 1955.

In exchange for the lucrative 25-year franchise, NYRA would drop a claim that it owns the tracks and some high-priced property around them.

Bruno called a news conference a day after NYRA threatened to lay off workers and close Saratoga Race Course — in Bruno’s district — for this coming season if a deal wasn’t reached by next week.

“Can I tell you this is a done deal? No,” Bruno told reporters. “I cannot say that.”

But, “Racing will continue,” he insisted.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Gov. Eliot Spitzer wouldn’t confirm the specific elements that Bruno released, but didn’t deny a deal was near.

“We are actively engaged in negotiations and we are working toward resolution by next week’s deadline,” said Silver spokesman Dan Weiller. “The speaker is optimistic that we will meet next week’s deadline.”

According to Bruno, there is general agreement — subject to further talks — on the following elements:

— State taxpayers would bail out NYRA for a third time, this time with $75 million to pay off some of its debt and get out of federal bankruptcy court. Another $30 million in state money would be used for operating expenses this year. NYRA would still be about $200 million in debt.

— A company to operate video slot machines at Aqueduct would be selected in about a month, with revenue from the machines expected to give NYRA the cash it needs to operate and pay off its debt.

— No video slot machines would be put at Belmont.

— Saratoga Race Course, the jewel of New York racing, wouldn’t be changed. Local zoning laws would be established to make sure development is in keeping with the historic track, which attracts hundreds of thousands of gamblers and tourists from around the world every summer.

— The new NYRA board will include six or seven appointees of the governor, including representatives of horse owners and breeders, two appointed by Bruno and two by Silver. NYRA-appointed members would still have a one-seat majority on the board.

— NYRA’s board chairman would be limited to two four-year terms.

— There will be no layoffs.

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