06/10/2013 3:50PM

New York Racing Association zeroing in on new CEO

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NEW YORK – The New York Racing Association did not name a new CEO at Monday’s board meeting in Manhattan, but speculation is that Christopher Kay, a former executive with Toys R Us and a division of Universal Studios who most recently worked as CEO for a national land conservation organization, is the leading candidate to get the job.

Following a closed-door executive session of the NYRA board held following the regular open meeting, NYRA chairman David Skorton – who also chairs the CEO search committee – indicated a decision would be announced soon, but would not offer any specifics.

“We made further progress, we don’t have a CEO yet,” he said. “We expect one very, very, very, very soon. I hope that will be days and not weeks, but I use the word hope.”

If it is Kay, NYRA would be getting a CEO without any racing experience. Rather, someone who has a background in entertainment and land preservation and development. One of the primary issues facing whoever is the new NYRA CEO concerns the future of Aqueduct, one of three tracks operated by the association. Aqueduct is the home of the most successful racino on the East Coast and sits on some of the most valuable land in the New York City.

Some have suggested that Aqueduct be closed and downstate racing be moved to Belmont Park on a year-round basis except for the period during the summer when Saratoga is open.

Kay, a graduate of the University of Missouri and Duke law school, most recently was COO for The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation organization which conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens and natural areas, according to its website. He left the company in February, according to a secretary at the organization.

From 2000-08, Kay was the COO and general counsel for Toys R Us. From 2008-10, Kay was the managing director, international business development, for Universal Parks and Resorts, integrating projects in China and Korea.

The appointment of Kay would fit in with the make-up and direction of the new board, which includes several people from the entertainment world, including celebrity chef Bobby Flay and Jane Rosenthal, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, both of whom were on the search committee along with Stuart Janney III and Earle Mack.

NYRA has been without a CEO since Charles Hayward was fired in May 2012. Ellen McClain was the acting CEO until she resigned at the end of April.

It is expected the new CEO would hire a chief operating officer and/or someone to oversee racing operations.
The hot topic during the public portion of NYRA’s board meeting was regarding the bidding process over a contract with Global Betting Exchange, an Ireland-based company that NYRA is trying to procure exclusively to enhance its advance-deposit wagering platform.

The bidding process over the contract has been debated for months. The Franchise Oversight Board has expressed concerns that NYRA did not follow proper bidding practices when selecting Global Betting Exchange, but the NYRA board was never given anything in writing detailing the objections. Bennett Liebman, the state appointed deputy/secretary on gaming and racing, was adamant that there were violations during the bidding process at the meeting and were conveyed to NYRA management.

NYRA board member Stuart Subotnick, the chair of the NYRA finance committee, insisted the process was legitimate.
During a presentation by NYRA management, David O’Rourke, vice president of corporate development and one of the three members that make up the interim management team, asked the board if NYRA could rebid the contract, which he thinks could be completed in 90 days.

O’Rourke believes Global Betting Exchange would bring in “state of the art technology,” to NYRA, including, for example, being able to cash tickets at an OTB even if the bet was made ontrack, or vice versa.

“We need a new platform,” O’Rourke said. “Our platform is stable. We want to compete – we want to be best of breed.”

After a contentious debate, a motion was made by Subotnick to approve the contract pending a review by NYRA of the concerns of the Franchise Oversight Board.

“If there is substantial non-conformance with our own rules, then we’re going to rebid,” Skorton said. “If there’s not, we’re going to go ahead and execute the contract.”

In other news at the meeting:

NYRA reported that handle on its races for the first quarter of 2012 was $406.9 million, a decrease of $81.1 million, or 16.6 percent, compared to the same period last year. There were 13 fewer racing days in 2013 compared with the same period in 2012.

Daily average handle at Belmont through June 2 was $10.2 million, up from $9.7 million in 2012. Field size at Belmont is 7.9 compared to 8.2 during the same period in 2012.

O’Rourke said NYRA hopes to soon introduce a new pick-five wager with a low takeout.

O’Rourke also said that the Capital OTB channel in upstate New York will be able to show the Saratoga races live during the meet, which begins July 19. In the past, the channel was restricted to showing the races – save the last – on a tape-delay basis.