05/25/2016 4:02PM

NYRA confident it's moving toward reprivatization


NEW YORK – Officials with the New York Racing Association seemed confident that a bill would get done by next month that would return the company to private control, but they sidestepped questions concerning one proposal that could include an unspecified loss of casino revenue.

On Tuesday, a Saratoga watchdog group said it had seen a reprivatization proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that, among other things, would transfer video lottery terminal funds from NYRA earmarked for capital improvements at its three tracks – Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga – as well as funds from operations to the state’s general fund.

Mike Del Giudice, vice chairman of the NYRA’s Reorganization Board of Directors, took a wait-and-see approach when asked about it following a board meeting Wednesday in Manhattan.

“I go back in Albany history 50 years, so stuff that comes out now isn’t necessarily stuff that is going to be there down the road,” Del Giudice said. “Until something comes out, then we’ll react to it.”

In addressing the status of reprivatization to the board members, Del Giudice said, “We’re trying to preserve the right structure going into private control, we’re trying to preserve the money that we’re entitled to, and we’re trying to preserve the operations and the structure that we put into place.”

Del Giudice said his primary goal from any legislation that advances is to get NYRA returned to private control, something Cuomo said in 2012, when the state took over control of NYRA, that he wanted to get done by last year. After extending the current board for another year, it is expected that a bill will be voted on by the end of this current legislative session June 16 that could do just that.

Last month, NYRA submitted two proposals for the makeup of a new board. One of those proposals was basically adopted by Sen. John Bonacic, the chairman of the Senate Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee, who on Wednesday introduced a bill that would replace the current 17-member board with a 15-member board, with four of the appointments controlled by the state government. The governor would have two appointees, while the leaders of the Senate and the Assembly would have one each. The governor would also have the ability to select the chairman of the first reorganized board.

Bonacic’s bill would also include a voting spot on the board for someone from the state’s breeding association as well as the New York Thoroughbred horsemen’s group providing NYRA is allotted a spot on the board of those associations.

Bonacic’s bill does not make any mention of taking back any VLT revenue from NYRA.

The governor’s proposal, which has not been formally introduced as legislation, would allow the state to appoint as many as seven of 15 board members, according to the Concerned Citizens of Saratoga, which has rejected that proposal.

“The governor and the legislature control the business; it’s ultimately up to them to decide that,” Del Giudice said. “Before I say or do anything, I’d rather see what they’re coming out with and react to that.”

As of Wednesday, the Assembly had yet to introduce a bill on the structure of a private NYRA.

Del Giudice said he believes something will get done by June 16.

“People can sit down at a table and negotiate this in a couple of hours,” Del Giudice said. “It’s not complicated.”

During and after Wednesday’s 45-minute meeting, Del Giudice and Chris Kay, the president and chief executive of NYRA, both pointed to the success NYRA has had the last three years. In each of the last two years, NYRA has shown a modest operating profit, exclusive of revenue from VLTs. NYRA is budgeting for another profit in 2016.

“We’ve had a great three years,” Del Giudice said. “Every indicator you could possibly look at is positive. It’s hard to say we want more.”

From a business standpoint, NYRA appears to be off to a good start in 2016 based on results from the first quarter. According to Jelena Alonso, NYRA controller, all-sources handle at Aqueduct from Jan. 1 through March 31 was up $57.4 million, or 17.8 percent, compared to the same period in 2015. Average daily handle was up $393,000. NYRA raced five more days during the first quarter of 2016 than in the first quarter of 2015.

Thus far at Belmont, NYRA reports that average daily handle is up 17.6 percent from the first three weeks of the 2015 spring meet. There were two more days of racing in 2015 than this year at this point.

• Kay said that NYRA has had talks with the New York State Gaming Commission about establishing a world-class drug-testing laboratory in the state. Kay said part of the funding would come from a NYRA foundation he hopes to announce in the coming months.

“One of the things we’re doing now is creating a foundation such that people could donate money to the foundation that could be used for research,” Kay said. “So, it would have a strong operating facility – better than most in this country – and also be able to have a research function associated with it so that we would always be on top of the latest issues.”

In comments after the meeting, Kay said he hoped the laboratory would be of the quality that “other states would say, ‘This is outstanding, we’re going to start sending our blood samples to you.’ ”

– additional reporting by Matt Hegarty