05/03/2012 1:28PM

New York governor cites NYRA's problems as priority

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that one of his priorities for the remainder of the state legislative session would be the New York Racing Association, which earlier this week suspended its president and its general counsel after a state report challenged claims by the association late last year that it was unaware it was incorrectly applying higher takeout rates to some bets.

Speaking on Capitol Pressroom, an Albany radio show, Cuomo was asked about his legislative priorities, and he quickly listed minimum-wage legislation, campaign-finance reform, and teacher certification. He then added, "and there’s another recent issue, which is more problems at the New York Racing Association," the non-profit company that operates Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga under a lease with the state.

"There’s been a seemingly never-ending series of issues with NYRA," Cuomo said. "Horse deaths that are being probed, and now some financial irregularities."

Cuomo did not revisit the topic for the remainder of the 12-minute interview. However, the mention of NYRA indicates that Cuomo’s staff has been asked to consider pushing for changes at the association, which has been under fire for a variety of issues since a casino opened at Aqueduct late last October, including the takeout issue.

The executive committee of NYRA’s board is scheduled to meet Friday morning to address the association’s latest problems, and, according to several officials with knowledge of the committee’s plans, several board members are being pressed to take on larger roles in order to guide NYRA through the recent troubles.

The two board members, the officials said, include Michael Del Guidice, the current vice chairman of the board, and Leonard Riggio.

Both Del Guidice and Riggio have significant ties to Cuomo. Del Guidice was the chief of staff for Andrew Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and he currently runs an investment firm, Rockland Capital. Riggio, chairman of Barnes and Noble, is a major fundraiser for Cuomo.

The executive committee also is likely to consider additional action against NYRA’s president and chief executive, Charles Hayward, and the association’s general counsel, Patrick Kehoe, who were both suspended indefinitely without pay Monday.

In addition to the state racing and wagering board, which issued the report Monday on the takeout issue, NYRA is overseen by the Franchise Oversight Board, which is headed by Cuomo’s budget chief, Robert Megna. The board has the authority to recommend that the state revoke NYRA’s franchise.