Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill aimed at restructuring the New York Racing Association so that the embattled public benefit corporation will have a greater degree of oversight as it operates the state’s thoroughbred tracks.
Proposed in May, the legislation places NYRA under the public control for a period of three years and establishes a 17-member board of directors tasked with transforming the agency. Once the board’s term expires, NYRA is expected to again come under majority private control.
The reorganization board will consist of seven members appointed by Cuomo, with five members selected by the existing board of 25 directors. In addition, the state Senate and state Assembly will appoint two directors each, with the remaining member being a chairman nominated by the governor and approved by the existing board.
The reorganization board will go into effect when a majority of the new members are appointed within the next couple of weeks and will effectively dissolve the old one. The new board’s first task is expected to be a national search for a new chief executive officer and general counsel.
“New York taxpayers and the betting public deserve a racing industry that is managed competently and does not neglect the health and safety of the horses,” Cuomo said in a statement released Monday. “The NYRA reorganization board will restore public trust, accountability, and transparency to the racing industry in our state, so New York can continue to offer one of the most exciting, enjoyable, safe horse-racing experiences in the nation.”
Within 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, according to the bill. 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.
NYRA has a 25-year legal agreement to operate racing tracks at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A spokesman from NYRA could not be reached for comment Monday.
The state takeover was prompted by a state Racing and Wagering Board investigation into an incorrect takeout percentage on exotic bets that illegally denied bettors $8.5 million in winnings. The scandal led to the firing of NYRA president Charles Hayward and chief counsel Patrick Kehoe in May.
“NYRA needed radical change,” said state Sen. John Bonacic, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, in a statement applauding the legislation. “Whether it is horses dying on the track, NYRA keeping $8.5 million from fans or the self-serving $250,000 painting, NYRA needed a complete makeover.”