State officials say the New York Racing Association will continue to operate the Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga race tracks for another 25 years under a deal struck among political leaders in New York.
NYRA’s board still has to approve the deal, which was confirmed by two state officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement hasn’t been officially announced.
Under the tentative agreement, NYRA would get $105 million from the state to get out of bankruptcy and would agree to end its claim on the race track properties. NYRA has held the franchise since 1955.
But the deal approved by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and legislative leaders will mean a new NYRA, with greater accountability and an expanded board of directors to include more representatives of horse owners, breeders and government.
The agreement is intended to improve racing and bolster the 40,000-employee industry in New York and would end two years of efforts by competitors from the racing and gaming industries to topple NYRA despite its strong ties to New York politicians. Competitors from Australia to Churchill Downs promised more revenue to the state and industry and an end to years of state and federal investigations into NYRA’s management, which led the business into bankruptcy court despite other state bailouts in recent years.
But the situation was complicated by NYRA’s threat to fight for ownership rights to the tracks and some high-priced property around Aqueduct. Spitzer, former Gov. George Pataki and legislative leaders have long said that the state owns the land.
Details of the deal haven’t been released. But the framework of a tentative agreement outlined by Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno last week included a third bailout of NYRA, this time with $75 million to pay off some of its debt and get out of 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.
In addition, a gaming company would be selected separately to operate video slot machines at Aqueduct, but no video slot machines would be installed at Belmont at this time.
All sides agreed Saratoga Race Course, the jewel of New York racing, wouldn’t be changed.