New York Racing Association officials don’t share the optimistic view of some state legislators that a new 25-year NYRA franchise agreement is close, though all sides say talks are still going on.
“We don’t think it’s there yet,” NYRA spokesman John Lee said on Thursday.
Lee said the franchise agreement “framework” outlined by state lawmakers this week in Albany “has been in place since the day after Labor Day.”
The framework includes a 25-year franchise with $105 million in state money to bring NYRA out of bankruptcy, pay bills and improve race purses, according to state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick.
Bruno said again Thursday the state will have a new racing agreement in place by the Feb. 13 deadline.
But a final agreement on a new NYRA franchise — endorsed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the state Senate and the Assembly — was not announced Thursday, as some had predicted on Wednesday.
NYRA has operated the thoroughbred horse racing tracks at Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont since the mid-1950s.
The association’s franchise agreement ended Dec. 31, but a state Oversight Board has approved two brief extensions so the winter racing meet at Aqueduct in Queens could proceed while negotiations on a new agreement continue.
Bruno labeled as “scare tactics” NYRA’s notification to employees this week that more than 1,000 people would be laid off Feb. 14 and the race tracks padlocked if there were no agreement.
“We don’t believe that is going to happen,” said Scott Reif, a Bruno spokesman. Reif said the formal approval of a new franchise agreement is “imminent,” expected to be announced “very shortly.”
“Negotiations are ongoing,” said Jennifer Givner, a spokeswoman for Spitzer.
“Discussions are progressing and we are incredibly encouraged that we will have something in place by Feb. 13,” Givner said Thursday.
“I hope it happens tomorrow,” said Saratoga Springs Supervisor Joanne Yepsen.
She said every day without a new agreement means less time to plan for the upcoming racing meet at the Saratoga Race Course that is still scheduled to start July 23 and run through Labor Day, Sept. 1.
“We can’t afford to lose any more hope,” Yepsen said of the city’s business and tourism community.
NYRA has still not started selling season tickets for the Saratoga meet, something that usually begins in November.
Yepsen said she would like to see a “grass roots” initiative from local business people and racing enthusiasts urging the legislators in Albany to finalize a new franchise agreement very soon.
Lee said Thursday that NYRA also would like to see a final franchise agreement announced in the coming days.
“But we have to take measures to deal with the other scenario,” Lee said about the layoff notices issued this week.
NYRA racing officials on Sunday will draw the races for Thursday, Feb. 14, the day Aqueduct would be closed down if there is no franchise agreement in place.
Asked if a reporter could talk directly to NYRA Chief Executive Officer Charles Hayward, Lee declined, saying Hayward “is reluctant to negotiate the contract in the media,” Lee said.
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