08/13/2006 11:00PM

Hevesi weighs in on bid rules


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Alan Hevesi, the state comptroller of New York, has asked the committee that is overseeing the bidding process for the New York Racing Association franchise to require that new franchise holders comply with recommendations made by a court-appointed monitoring firm to ensure the integrity of racing and wagering.

The request came in a letter that Hevesi sent Monday to J. Patrick Barrett, the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing. Also, the letter said that Hevesi believed the committee has not given itself enough time to properly evaluate responses to its request for proposals to operate the franchise. Responses to the request for proposals are due Aug. 29, and the committee has set a Sept. 29 deadline to issue its recommendations.

"This is far too short a timeframe to evaluate sufficiently the important and complex proposals the committee is likely to receive," Hevesi wrote.

Hevesi's call to add integrity requirements draws on recommendations issued by Getnick and Getnick, a law firm that monitored NYRA's business affairs for 18 months in 2004 and 2005 as part of a deferred prosecution agreement that allowed NYRA to avoid indictment on money-laundering and fraud charges that stemmed from cash policies in its mutuel department.

Among the recommendations cited by Hevesi were requirements for a prohibition on doing business with rebate shops that "do not provide full and complete information" to New York regulators; a "strict drug testing program" and the use of security barns; the separation of horsemen's funds from the track's finances; a code of ethics; yearly, audited financial statements; and registration of the franchise holder as a "money services business."

"The monitor's recommendations have to be considered minimum requirements that each respondent must satisfy," Hevesi wrote.

NYRA issued a statement in response to Hevesi's letter supporting the recommendations. NYRA has already implemented many of the reforms that Hevesi is seeking.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Ad Hoc Committee, said in a statement that Hevesi's recommendations "are either already part of the [request for proposals] or would require statutory changes by the legislature and governor." Reif criticized Hevesi for failing to submit the recommendations earlier, when the committee was developing the request for proposals in part through four public hearings.

"While we always welcome Mr. Hevesi's input, it would have been far more constructive to offer it while the committee was actually compiling the information, but sadly he didn't find the time to attend a single hearing or even submit written testimony," Reif said.

NYRA's franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga, and a casino at Aqueduct expires at the end of 2007. The process to award the franchise is expected to carry over until at least next year.

Also on Monday, Empire Racing, one of the bidders, announced that it had hired Denise O'Donnell, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York, to "help create a comprehensive racing and corporate integrity plan." The Empire announcement specifically cited Getnick and Getnick's report in making the decision to hire O'Donnell. Empire Racing, which has been endorsed by the board of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, has a strained relationship with NYRA, and the two groups are considered to be two of the front-runners in the battle for the franchise.