03/14/2007 11:00PM

N.Y. bidders face deadline

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The six companies vying to take over the franchise held by the New York Racing Association must submit their plans for the franchise in writing to the state by March 31, according to a letter sent to the companies by Richard Rifkin, Gov. Eliot Spitzer's special counsel.

Rifkin is head of a panel created by Spitzer that will conduct public hearings and issue a recommendation on choosing a franchise-holder to the governor and the legislature.

The letter also said that the bidders would need to submit to an "integrity review" by the state's inspector general to be considered as a potential franchise-holder. In earlier comments, Spitzer has said that any operator of the franchise - which includes the right to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga, and a casino at Aqueduct - would be judged on a pass-fail basis for integrity.

The contents of the letter, which was initially provided by a member of one of the bidding groups, were confirmed by Spitzer's office on Thursday.

In the letter, Rifkin writes that Spitzer intends to make a recommendation for the next franchise-holder "by or about" May 25. But, Rifkin wrote, Spitzer does not believe that bidding for the franchise must be closed after the public hearings are held on April 10-11, at a to-be-determined location. The franchise expires Dec. 31.

"It should be noted that the governor reserves his right to reject all proposals in the event that no entry demonstrates the required character, the ability to operate the tracks in a manner he deems satisfactory, or provides sufficient value to the state," Rifkin wrote.

The governor and the legislature both have to approve a new franchise-holder.

Six companies indicated to Spitzer's office that they intended to make presentations. The companies included three that had submitted detailed proposals to a committee last year - Empire Racing Associates, Excelsior Racing Associates, and NYRA - and three newcomers: Capital Party Play, Catskill Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., and Thoroughbred Racing-NY, which is headed by the casino developer Steve Wynn.