05/17/2006 11:00PM

N.Y. senator seeking rise in takeout


New York State Sen. William Larkin, the chairman of the Senate's Committee on Racing, Gaming, and Wagering, has called on the New York Racing Association to raise its takeout and work more closely with the state's six offtrack betting corporations.

Larkin's recommendations were contained in an annual report released Wednesday by the racing and wagering committee, which shepherds racing-related legislation into the state Senate. The report is at times highly critical of NYRA and its financial performance over the past several years, and it calls for a "new manager" for NYRA's three racetracks when the association's franchise expires on Dec. 31, 2007.

Many of the report's recommendations for NYRA are not new, but Larkin's continued support for higher takeouts and the state's offtrack operations underscores the difficulties NYRA will face in attempting to extend its franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Racecourse. NYRA has opposed higher takeouts in the past and has called for OTB's to be merged into its operations in order to drive down costs and give the association more control over its racing product.

Steve Casscles, a legislative aide to Larkin, said Thursday that Larkin's recommendations were designed to reverse NYRA's recent financial losses and restore money to the local municipalities where OTB's are legal. Should NYRA increase its takeout, the association would raise more money for itself and for the state's offtrack operations, which can return that money to local government.

"As it is right now, NYRA is being subsidized by the OTB's," Casscles said. "That's a problem."

Casscles said that Larkin had discussed the takeout increase with an oversight board that was created last year to monitor NYRA's performance.

"We don't have to do this legislatively," Casscles said. "he oversight board could require it."

Charles Hayward, the chief executive officer of NYRA, did not return a phone call Thursday.

NYRA lost approximately $87 million from 2001 to 2004, according to the report, which blames rapidly escalating expenses for the losses. The report also calls attention to various scandals at NYRA over the past several years, including a tax-fraud scheme that resulted in NYRA entering into a deferred-prosecution agreement with federal authorities.

A nine-member committee is developing recommendations on how to award NYRA's franchise. The winning bidder will need approval by the legislature.