08/09/2016 7:34PM

Former Cuomo aide criticizes governor's handling of NYRA franchise


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – A panel at a law conference discussing the current state of the New York Racing Association franchise ended with a former official of the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo sharply criticizing his former boss’s policies toward the franchise.

Bennett Liebman, a widely respected racing law scholar who served as Cuomo’s deputy secretary for gaming and racing from 2011 to 2014, said at the end of the panel during prepared remarks that a recent decision by Cuomo to extend by another year the state’s control of NYRA’s board was symptomatic of “a great degree of unreality” surrounding the NYRA franchise. Liebman then listed the options presented earlier this year to Cuomo by NYRA and the legislature and stated that the NYRA plan was “the best of all possible worlds for the governor,” yet Cuomo rejected it.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Liebman said.

Liebman’s comments underlined the often puzzling political environment surrounding NYRA, which operates Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga. Four years ago, Cuomo engineered the takeover of the NYRA board, citing his dissatisfaction with NYRA management. The takeover, which gave Cuomo and the legislature the power to appoint a majority of the board’s members and led to wholesale turnover in NYRA’s upper management, was expected to last three years, but state control was extended both last year and this year.

At the time of the takeover, Cuomo’s administration was considering legislation to overhaul the state’s casino gambling statutes and potentially identify new sites for casinos. NYRA’s Aqueduct is the site of the Eastern Seaboard’s highest-grossing casino, which is operated by Genting under a license from the state. The casino is required by law to provide a portion of its revenue to NYRA and its horsemen.

Liebman was critical of all the political machinations surrounding the status of the franchise, saying that none of the principal actors had provided any justification for how the various proposals would lead to real change in how the association is structured or managed. Liebman was then critical of groups that had picked sides in the political debate, saying that many were “fighting just to fight.”

“The same people who are serving on the reorganization board are going to serve on the next board, no matter which proposal goes through,” Liebman said, noting that the current board has voted unanimously on every major proposal presented during its meetings over the past four years. “There have been zero differences in viewpoints between the public appointees and the private appointees [since 2012]. . . . We are arguing about nothing.”

Richard Violette, a trainer who is the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association who has been an ex officio member of the NYRA board since its reorganization, also was sharply critical of the political climate surrounding NYRA, contending that it was handcuffing the association’s ability to plan for the future. Violette listed a number of long-term planning issues that the board should be addressing, but he said the planning is not occurring because of a reluctance to rock the boat with the franchise unsettled.

“We’ve wasted four years,” Violette said.

Liebman closed his comments with a recitation of the declines in handle on both Standardbred racing and Thoroughbred racing since its heyday in the 1950s, and, following that, since 2005. Liebman stated that statewide handle on both breeds is down 29 percent in the last decade, when adjusted for inflation.

“We have real problems in New York racing,” Liebman said. “The NYRA reprivatization issue should not be one.”

mark 6 months ago
ill explain it to you

andrew is marios son
mario despised nyra wanted to destroy it in the eighties
andrew is honoring his fathers wishes from the grave

its really that simple
Ed Goldstein 6 months ago
A major problem is not just a plan for the future... but a vision.  As long as the present CEO insists that the bottom line is profit... and the Saratoga public be dammed,  there is little hope that the new generation will embrace the racing season as its more senior racing enthusiasts have done for years.  Raising admission prices & parking is short sighted but perhaps somewhat necessary; however, charging outrageous prices for reserving picnic tables that for generations attracted countless families for a great view of the paddock and a picnic day amid friends is disgraceful.  They are usually empty.... causing serious overcrowding in the adjacent area.  Admit it was foolish, unwise and not even profitable.  Has a Board member ever ventured out to speak to the picnic public????  To a person they only have contempt for NYRA and its policies.
Anthony DiMartino 6 months ago
I agree that changes need to be made. I feel nighttime racing particularly in the major circuit tracks....Belmont, Saratoga, Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita and Del Mar would be a tremendous addition to the sport as a whole. Obviously Lighting would need to be installed at these tracks but it's the move that needs to be made! Churchill Downs made the move to nighttime racing and it has been a successful business decision albeit with no major national telecast. Even more important besides bringing nighttime racing is to have live national coverage of these nighttime races similar to the way the NFL has Monday, Thursday or Sunday Night Football. Weekend racing sustains itself but if a Wednesday Racenight could be added with a national broadcast from 2 or 3 tracks, it would allow rapid races staggered with 10 -15 minutes of downtime per race and if produced correctly would have the opportunity to draw attention to many younger sports fans. Along with this would include advertising to account wagering platforms and advertising to big days and promotions to draw people to come to live races. This is my best idea to broaden the sport of horse racing in an attempt to raise its popularity once again 
Chris Lowe 6 months ago
NY laws currently prohibit night thoroughbred racing, the statutes would need amending.
Bruce Epstein 6 months ago
Well said
Chas 6 months ago
Nice to see those who worked with Cuomo calling him out! Just waiting for the 'dirt' on Cuomo to hit big time and not even his dear friend Clinton will be able to save him and his political career..Cuomo is just like his old man, bury and end NYRA for no reason at all...
Rich Pavone 6 months ago
The scandals and the reorganization are just a farce orchestrated by Cuomo and Spitzer. before him.The sole purpose of all this theater was to get ownership of the tracks, rest control of the board the people who had some racing experience and use the control to take back casino money from the horsemen.

Cuomo's shills have cooked the books to show nyra making money w/o the subsidies.  This is basically impossible.  NYRA loses so much money on winter racing that there is no way they can show a profit

You want proof.of this.  that last three times the franchise came up for bid without the casino.  There were no takers.  Beacause everyone that might of bid knew they couldn't make money running the franchise.

Cuomo and his cronies are after the money, they could care less about racing.