06/18/2012 1:24PM

Bill calling for state takeover of NYRA introduced

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A bill was introduced on Saturday in the New York legislature that would put in place a plan endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo providing for state control of the board of directors of the New York Racing Association for three years.

The bill codifies an agreement reached in May between NYRA and Cuomo’s administration. Under the bill, Cuomo will appoint eight members of the new NYRA board, including its chairman. The leadership of the state Senate and Assembly will receive two appointments each, and NYRA will receive five appointees.

NYRA’s board currently consists of 25 members. State officials control 11 appointees to the board under the current structure.

The bill states that the new board will “become effective upon appointment of a majority of public members,” and that the board will be dissolved “three years from the date of its creation.” A provision in the bill requires board members to disclose any financial interests in racing or breeding.

The bill also allows the organizations representing New York’s horsemen and its breeders to appoint one non-voting member each to the board.

Cuomo and state officials pushed NYRA to dissolve and reconstitute its board after the association came under intense criticism this winter over its management policies and a spate of deaths at the inner-track meet at Aqueduct. It also came at a time when casino lobbyists are intensely lobbying for approval to operate new facilities and games in the state. The largest casino in the state is located at Aqueduct and is operated by a Malaysian company, Genting New York. NYRA and the state’s horsemen and breeders receive approximately 15 percent of the revenue from the casino.

In its opening language, the bill states that it is necessary to put in place a new board at NYRA because “the structure of gaming and racing is undergoing change in New York,” a reference to the possibility that casinos will be dramatically expanded in the state under a plan supported by Cuomo. This year, the legislature passed a bill allowing for the establishment of seven new casinos through a constitutional amendment. Under New York laws, a constitutional amendment has to be passed by two successive legislatures and then be approved by voters in a referendum.

If the casino-expansion bill is ultimately approved, Cuomo and the legislature will control NYRA at a time when casino operators will be seeking new locations for casinos under new revenue-sharing agreements. NYRA’s sprawling Long Island racetrack, Belmont Park, has often been cited as an attractive location for a new casino.