Perhaps lost in the late-night confusion and political jockeying of the state budget negotiations was a deal that affects horse racing operations in Saratoga and an industry that provides 33,000 full-time jobs and has a $4.2 billion economic impact statewide.
As part of the state budget plan, lawmakers agreed to return the New York Racing Association to private operation, five years after the state took over control because of mismanagement and financial malfeasance.
The plan arrived at by lawmakers is an improvement over the plan proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January, in that it puts more of the board under local and industry control and it distributes the government’s role more equitably.
The result should be a more responsive, flexible and autonomous association that creates a better experience for the racing industry and its fans, one free of financial corruption and one that helps ensure racing in New York thrives well into the future.
One improvement over the governor’s plan is in the makeup of the board.
The new legislation calls for a 17-member board consisting of eight people named by NYRA’s executive committee. Two will be named by the governor and two each by the Senate and the Assembly. Under the governor’s proposal, the governor would have named six members, putting too much power in the executive’s hands.
Another improvement is that representatives from vital organizations representing horsemen and breeders will get full voting rights on the new board. Under the old plan, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and New York Breeders Inc. would have only been ex-officio members, with no voting rights.
To help prevent a return to the corruption and mismanagement, the new plan has a number of safeguards.but no gallery specified -->
NYRA board members will be restricted to three, three-year terms, meaning there’ll be less opportunity for members to become entrenched and to benefit personally. There are also rules restricting board members from having financial ties to casinos or to any development deals at NYRA, including real estate deals.
Another safeguard is the creation of a strong state Franchise Oversight Board that oversees part of NYRA’s budget. The oversight board would have control, but not so much that it could subvert the powers of the new NYRA board without a unanimous vote of the oversight board members.
One element that should have been included but was not was making the NYRA board subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Law and Open Meetings Law. That would have allowed greater public scrutiny of its operations. Let’s hope the other safeguards are enough to prevent a repeat of the past.
Overall, the plan gives NYRA enough room to prosper while giving government enough oversight to protect fans, industry organizations, taxpayers and the horses.
This step was long overdue. Let’s hope it will help NYRA and the racing industry get back on the right track.