About $4 million in video-lottery terminal revenue was released to the New York Racing Association’s coffers last week by the state, which cut off the funding last month as a sign of disapproval with appointments made by the scandal-plagued racing operator.
On May 15, the state Division of Lottery was ordered to withhold NYRA’s share of the revenue generated by VLTs at the Resorts World facility at Aqueduct. VLT revenue scheduled to fund purse increases at NYRA’s tracks at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga continued to flow, but money for capital projects and its operating budget was instead put into an escrow account.
That money was released Friday, following the passage of legislation creating a new reorganization board to lead NYRA for the next three years, said Lottery Director Gordon Medenica after Tuesday’s meeting of the state Franchise Oversight Board.
Medenica added that “the normal flow [of VLT money] has resumed”
Neither the state nor NYRA would say how much money was withheld, but in NYRA’s enacted budget it predicted VLT revenue would contribute about $2.29 million a month for capital projects and $1.72 million a month for the operating budget. The escrow account accumulated funds over a period of about 37 days.
It was never officially clear how important the blocked funds were to NYRA’s day-to-day survival, but racing industry officials expressed skepticism about the corporation’s ability to last long without them. When the funds were initially withheld, New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. Executive Director Jeffrey Cannizzo told The Daily Gazette: “Everyone is well aware that NYRA is in vital need of the VLT money to stay in business.”
NYRA wouldn’t comment on the impact of the delayed funds.
It is clear that NYRA will continue to operate in the future now, albeit with a state-controlled reorganization board that will take over once a majority of the government’s 12 appointees are named. The board is scheduled to dissolve after three years, when majority control will return to NYRA.
Because the NYRA board will be dominated by state appointees, a member of the Franchise Oversight Board questioned whether that oversight body would need to exist. Under the authorizing legislation creating the reorganization board, both the state Racing and Wagering Board and Franchise Oversight Board will continue to perform their oversight functions.
“It’s not a bad question,” said oversight board Chairman Bob Megna, who noted that the takeover is new territory for the state, which might require some stability. He added it was his belief that Gov. Andrew Cuomo believed the Franchise Oversight Board had provided “useful guidance and information” that warranted it be kept in place.
The new legislation, which was passed last week and has yet to be signed by Cuomo, also raised the question oft what the current NYRA board should be doing now.
Acting NYRA President and COO Ellen McClain said the board is operating on its regular schedule, with its next meeting planned for early August. This prompted the Franchise Oversight Board to wonder about the merits of having the current board make any more decisions when the state has indicated by its planned takeover that it isn’t happy with the direction of NYRA’s board.
Megna said this lame duck period was another reason the Franchise Oversight Board should stick around, as it could review the decisions of the outgoing NYRA board.
Also at the meeting, McClain introduced NYRA’s new vice president and chief marketing officer, Rodnell Workman. Workman has a background in sports marketing and gave a brief talk to the board about his vision for expanding interest in racing.
No one on the board asked Workman what his salary will be and he declined to reveal that information to reporters after the meeting. NYRA has previously come under fire from the state for failing to reveal information about salaries for its executives.