06/21/2007 11:00PM

Lawmakers leave N.Y. franchise up in air


The New York Senate wrapped up its official 2007 session Thursday night in Albany without addressing the racing and slot-machine franchise held by the New York Racing Association, but a raft of unfinished business will likely result in the legislature being called back into session at least once later this year.

The franchise was not expected to be resolved during the session because of the complexity of the issues surrounding it and the lack of clear direction from New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Among the plans Spitzer's aides have floated to companies interested in obtaining the franchise is a deal that would allow NYRA to retain the racing side of the business while bidding out the slot-machine aspect.

The Senate adjourned on Thursday night at 10 p.m. Eastern, although the Assembly was still in session Friday afternoon. Racing officials said that the Assembly was not expected to address any major racing issues before adjourning.

NYRA's chief executive, Charles Hayward, who spent Thursday in Saratoga Springs, just north of Albany, said on Friday morning that "neither our lobbyists nor myself heard anything" about any possible deal on the franchise as the legislature neared the session's end.

"Zero," Hayward said, when asked if he had any communications from the governor's office or legislators on the franchise.

Any deal to award the franchise would require a significant number of changes to current racing law.

NYRA's franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga, and a yet-to-be-built casino at Aqueduct expires at the end of the year. Three companies other than NYRA have expressed an interest in taking over the franchise, but the companies have been told by Spitzer's chief counsel, Richard Rifkin, that the governor was considering a plan to split the racing and gambling parts of the franchise.

The Senate majority leader, Joe Bruno, was quoted in the Friday edition of the Saratogian newspaper as saying that he doesn't believe that the franchise award can be decided until late summer or early fall. Legislators may be called back into session as early as July 16 to address dozens of unresolved issues.

One racing-related bill did pass both houses before the Senate adjourned. The bill, which was pushed by the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, would double the amount of money the association retains from purses for a one-year period. Currently, it receives 1 percent of all purses, and the bill increases that percentage to 2 points.

In lobbying for the bill, the horsemen's group claimed it needed the additional money in order to pay its legal bills as it represents its claims related to NYRA's bankruptcy filing. NYRA filed for bankruptcy late last year.