07/19/2011 1:24PM

New York Senate to hold hearings on racing, other gambling


New York State Sen. John Bonacic, the chairman of the Senate’s Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee, will hold hearings later this summer to explore a handful of issues related to racing and casino gambling in the state, including the topic of whether the state can “legally” take control of the tracks leased by the New York Racing Association, according to a release from Bonacic’s office.

No date has been scheduled for the hearings, but Bonacic – who is also the chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee – said that two hearings will likely take place in late August and early September. At least one of the hearings will be a joint hearing between the two committees that Bonacic chairs, the release said.

In addition to a number of topics relating to the operations of the state’s beleaguered offtrack betting corporations, Bonacic also said that the hearing would address whether the state should push a constitutional amendment that would allow private companies to operate casinos in New York. Casinos are currently restricted to racetracks and several Native American tribes.

NYRA currently operates Aqueduct, Saratoga, and Belmont Park under a lease with the state that expires in 2033. A casino at Aqueduct that is expected to be one of the highest-grossing casinos in New York is scheduled to open later this year, and several private casino corporations and partnerships have been lobbying for the ability to open a casino at Belmont, a sprawling property in the middle of one of the most densely populated areas of Long Island outside of Brooklyn and Queens.

Under the lease with the state, NYRA is required to meet performance criteria relating to its financial condition and operations. An oversight board set up as part of the lease agreement can make a recommendation to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board that the lease be revoked if the board determines that NYRA has failed to meet the criteria. A determination by the board to revoke the lease could be appealed by NYRA through the courts.

The state is currently restricted from developing all but small parcels of the Belmont property. If NYRA’s lease were revoked, that would free the state to seek private casino operators at the property.

NYRA officials have clashed with the board on several occasions over the past two years, most recently earlier this summer when association officials declined to release publicly several of its financial records. NYRA ultimately withdrew its opposition to the public dissemination of the records and released the documents to the board.

Bonacic’s office also said that the hearing would explore the feasibility of legislation that would force the state’s five remaining OTB corporations to merge. New York’s largest OTB operation, New York Off-Track Betting Corporation, went out of business late in 2010, and Suffolk OTB on Long Island filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.