01/20/2006 1:00AM

Group urges N.Y. upgrade

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A New York state racing lobbying group is urging legislators to require that any bidders for the franchise held by the New York Racing Association put up at least $10 million for backstretch improvements at NYRA's three racetracks, Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga.

The recommendation arose from a study conducted by the lobbying group, Friends of New York Racing, according to the group's president, Tim Smith. The group was founded late in 2004 to lobby for changes to New York's racing law before the expiration of NYRA's racing franchise at the end of 2007.

"The quality of life on the NYRA backstretches needs to be improved on various different levels," Smith said, saying that 1,000 people currently live on NYRA's backsides.

With millions of dollars of revenue expected from slot machines, said Smith, "and a possible new franchise operator in 2008, important issues ranging from health care to housing to social services should be addressed."

NYRA is expected to open a slot-machine parlor at Aqueduct late this year or early next year. Friends of New York is also lobbying for the legalization of slot machines at Belmont.

A panel appointed by Gov. George Pataki has scheduled hearings for Jan. 24 in Albany and Jan. 25 in New York City to begin taking recommendations on what the state should require from any bidders for the franchise.

Bill Nader, the senior vice president of NYRA, said Friday that the call for more capital spending on NYRA's backstretches was not out of place, but also that the lobbying group's report failed to acknowledge that NYRA spent $3.5 million over the past year on its most pressing backstretch problems, including the opening of a health clinic at Saratoga.