12/28/2009 12:00AM

Comptroller seeks access to NYRA documents


The New York State Comptroller has issued a subpoena to the New York Racing Association demanding that the association allow the comptroller's auditors to examine NYRA's financial documents, the comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, said Monday.

In a statement, DiNapoli said that his office issued the subpoena Monday because the association had blocked the comptroller's office from examining the financial statements. DiNapoli, a Democrat, said he was interested in examining the statements because of recent remarks by NYRA officials that the association would run out of money in summer 2009, triggering an obligation by the state to provide NYRA with funding.

DiNapoli's office did not respond to phone calls Monday.

In a statement, NYRA said that it denied access to its financial statements because of a provision in the state constitution that prohibits the comptroller from auditing not-for-profit associations. The statement said that several state agencies, including the racing and wagering board and the department of taxation and finance, have the authority to audit NYRA.

In addition, the statement said, the state is responsible for appointing 11 of NYRA's 25 directors.

"Any suggestion that taxpayers are placed at risk by the constitutional prohibition on comptroller audits of NYRA is misleading," the statement said.

DiNapoli's demand to examine the statements comes as the state's political leadership is grappling with an estimated $15 billion budget deficit. The budget is expected to be released in late January and will likely include cuts to popular services.

Two years ago, the legislature reached an agreement with NYRA that transferred the titles for the association's three racetracks - Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga - to the state. As part of that agreement, NYRA received approximately $105 million in debt forgiveness and cash. In his statement, DiNapoli said he wanted to examine how NYRA spent the cash portion of the funding.

Also as part of that agreement, the state promised to provide funding to NYRA for its operational needs if a casino at Aqueduct was not up and running by the end March 2009. Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, and the state's two legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith - also Democrats - have yet to agree on an operator of the casino, which will likely be the highest-grossing casino property on the East Coast.

As a result, NYRA officials are expected to begin pressing the legislature to make good on the provision in the contract early next year, at the same time that state agencies will be making significant budget cuts.

In recent comments, Charles Hayward, NYRA's chief executive, said that the association will likely run out of money by late spring 2010. The association's latest financial troubles, Hayward contended, are due to unpaid debts from New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., which filed for bankruptcy early in December, and because the association included revenues from the casino in its 2010 budget under the expectation that the political leadership would have selected an operator 18 months ago.

Statutes governing the distribution of revenue from the Aqueduct casino entitle NYRA and its horsemen to approximately 16 percent of the gross proceeds.

Hayward did not respond to requests for comment Monday.