12/04/2003 12:00AM

Bill says felons can't run tracks


NEW YORK - New York State Sen. Bill Larkin has introduced a bill that would prohibit any convicted felon from owning or operating a racetrack in the state.

The bill, was introduced to the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, which is headed by Larkin, and would prevent anyone convicted of a felony from holding a management position at a racetrack in New York or at any facility that has a license to operate slot machines. Additionally, any person who owns or manages a racetrack or slots facility who is convicted of a felony would have his or her license revoked.

The New York legislature is out of session, so the earliest the bill could be addressed would be January 2004.

Jackie Fiore, a spokeswoman for Larkin, said on Thursday that the bill is being proposed to address several controversies involving New York racing companies. Fiore said Larkin was concerned that any indictments of racing officials at New York tracks could jeopardize employees at the tracks and the revenue the tracks generate for the state.

State and federal regulators continue to investigate the New York Racing Association, which operates Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga. Over the past three years, 18 NYRA mutuel tellers have been convicted of crimes related to tax fraud and forgery, and federal attorneys in New York are considering indictments against top NYRA officials related to the convictions.

In upstate New York, Vernon Downs, a harness track that hopes to be the first in the state to operate slot machines, has come under public scrutiny after its president and chairman, Hoolae Paoa, recently acknowledged that he had been convicted of felony theft and domestic abuse charges.

Larkin's bill would give the New York State Racing and Wagering Board the power to replace anyone whose license is revoked because of the law. The board licenses all employees at racetracks. Stacy Clifford, a spokeswoman for the board, said that under current regulations, a felony conviction does not "intentionally preclude" anyone from getting a license. Instead, a potential licensee who has a felony conviction is subjected to additional scrutiny on a case-by-case basis, Clifford said.

"Everyone is held to a certain standard, but obviously the nature of the crime is looked at pretty closely," Clifford said. "If you have a [chief financial officer] who is a convicted thief, obviously that's different than if you have a felony conviction for drunk driving. If you're a pedophile or drug dealer, then certainly those aren't the type of people you want on the backstretch."