One of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aides has floated the idea that control of horse-racing operations at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga might not revert back to the New York Racing Association after NYRA undergoes a three-year period of state control.
It is anticipated that Cuomo will sign legislation today that creates a 17-member Reorganization Board to take over at NYRA, which has come under renewed fire in the past year for its operations. That legislation outlines a plan of state control for no more than three years. Then the state’s racing franchise will be returned to private control.
The legislation was sent to the governor Thursday, an indication that his signing is imminent. It’s not clear whether new appointments to the board will be announced in conjunction with his signature.
While on Fred Dicker’s Talk 1300 radio show on Monday, state Director of Operations Howard Glaser laid out the scenario in which racing operations in the state might be handled by some entity other than NYRA after three years.
Glaser stressed that the legal franchise to run racing at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga will remain with NYRA, which has a 25-year legal agreement. That franchise agreement, though, doesn’t eliminate the possibility that new faces could be brought in to run racing operations.
“The operator could be someone stepping into the shoes for track operations,” Glaser said, adding that it might make sense to introduce some competition in the operations of the tracks.
What private control looks like after the period of state control, he said, is up to the Reorganization Board.
According to the bill language, 180 days before the Reorganization Board is dissolved, it must make recommendations to the governor and Legislature for a statutory plan for the future not-for-profit governing structure of NYRA. There is no reference to “operations” in the bill, which only stresses that the racing franchise will be returned to a not-for-profit corporation under private control.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson, who wondered whether the enacting legislation would allow for the scenario outlined by Glaser, said residents of Saratoga Springs should be concerned about the possibility of changing the operator at the local track. He said more details need to be disclosed about the vision the Cuomo administration has for the three tracks, but stressed that the not-for-profit corporation has been good for Saratoga Springs and should probably remain the model for future operators.
Making the case for individualized control of Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga, Glaser noted that each track has different characteristics and different highlights. This is an aspect that NYRA officials have routinely acknowledged in meetings with state oversight bodies. They have maintained that they understand it is important to craft a different experience at each track.
In public remarks later in the day, Glaser stressed that there are a variety of options being considered. He contended that the whole point of the new NYRA board is to get its input, with the state waiting for its say before any plans are made for the state’s three tracks.
The governor and Legislature could theoretically pick board members who would provide input that fits with their plan for the state’s three tracks.
The legislation will likely be signed “within a week,” Glaser said.
The legislation must be signed before October, as there is a provision in it that deals with the creation of the state’s Gaming Commission. This commission, which is a consolidation of the Lottery Division and the Racing and Wagering Board, was set to be created in October, but the NYRA legislation delays that implementation date until February 2013.
After it is signed, the NYRA legislation will go into effect once a majority of the public members are appointed. On the 17-member Reorganization Board, 12 members are appointed by the governor or the Legislature.
A spokesman from NYRA declined to comment.