12/31/2007 1:00AM

Agreement keeps Aqueduct open

EmailThe New York Racing Association has reached an agreement with a state oversight board that will allow Aqueduct to conduct racing through Jan. 23, NYRA said on Monday.

Aqueduct would have been forced to shut down on Jan. 1 without the agreement, which was negotiated with the Non-Profit Racing Association Oversight Board. NYRA’s franchise to conduct racing at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga was set to expire on Tuesday.

In a statement, the oversight board confirmed that a "stipulation agreement" extending the franchise through Jan. 23 had been reached with NYRA.

NYRA had been in negotiations with the oversight board for several days on the language of the short-term agreement. On Saturday, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, another regulatory panel, declined to give NYRA the temporary racing license it needed to continue operating Aqueduct, citing state law that gives the power to select an operator of the franchise to the oversight board.

“On behalf of our fans, employees, and the participants in the racing industry, NYRA wants to thank Governor Eliot Spitzer and Steven Newman, chair of the oversight board, for their extraordinary efforts to continue racing at Aqeuduct,” a statement released by NYRA on Monday said.

According to NYRA officials, negotiations on the short-term agreement were complicated by the desire for NYRA to retain all of its rights to the racetracks. NYRA is currently operating under the protection of a bankruptcy court, and was reluctant to reach any deal that would put its claim of ownership of the tracks in jeopardy. Some state officials dispute that NYRA owns the tracks.

Still unsettled is NYRA’s long-term future as the operator of the tracks. Legislative leaders and representatives of Spitzer have been conducting negotiations on a long-term extension for NYRA’s franchise, but those negotiations have been complicated by the opposition of Sen. Joseph Bruno, the senate majority leader. Bruno has been pushing for a shorter extension and the creation of a state agency with broad oversight powers over aspects of NYRA’s operations.

Negotiations on the long-term extension occurred on Friday and Saturday, but NYRA officials have said they were put on hold while they sought the short-term agreement with the oversight board.

Any long-term extension has to be approved by Spitzer, the senate, and the assembly. The legislature is scheduled to return to session on Jan. 9, and negotiations on the long-term agreement are expected to begin in earnest at that time.