It’s nice to see that Gov. David Paterson is determined to keep the New York Racing Association operating beyond the June 6 running of the Belmont Stakes. But, as usual, what he wants and what will happen aren’t necessarily one and the same.
NYRA, the nonprofit organization that operates Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga race tracks for the state, is running out of money yet again, and as usual, seems to be a victim of circumstances. Specifically, neither the bankrupt New York City Off-Track Betting Corp.’s inability to pony up the $17 million it owes NYRA, nor the state’s inability to get the Aqueduct video slot machines up and running so NYRA can reap some of the hundreds of millions of dollars they will generate, are NYRA’s fault. So it would be unfair — unconscionable, really, to let it go out of business while waiting for either issue to be resolved.
The state’s horse racing industry may not be what it once was in terms of popularity or profitability, but it still provides thousands of jobs and has an economic impact in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Without it, the economy of the upstate region in particular would be laid low.
So Paterson is right to make an exception to his stance on the need for extreme fiscal austerity until the state budget stalemate has ended. And there is no question that once the Aqueduct racino is operating, NYRA will be able to pay back the $15 million to $25 million he intends to lend it. Granted, that payback may not occur until next year, but at least Paterson is now saying he’s committed to having the vendor to build and operate the racino at least selected by Aug. 1.
There is no question that, even though the state is in a financial crisis that the Legislature seems in no hurry to address, letting NYRA become a casualty of that intransigence would be wrong.