04/11/2013 5:48PM

NYRA continues search for CEO, hopes to have new executive by June


NEW YORK - While the search for a new president and CEO for the New York Racing Association continues judiciously, the breadth of the job was illustrated by myriad topics discussed at Thursday’s meeting of the company’s Reorganization Board.

From the prospects of installing synthetic surfaces at its two downstate racetracks, to the desire to quickly re-enter the off-track betting market in New York City, the new CEO will have significant issues to tackle when he or she comes on board, presumably by June.

NYRA board chairman David Skorton characterized the search as “rounding second” in an interview following the meeting. He said there is no “short list” of candidates but wanted to dispel the myth that the search was “for show” and focused on just one or two people. Former racing executives Lou Raffeto and Bill Murphy have been two names that have been rumored to be under consideration, but Skorton said the search is not just focusing on those with solely a racing background.

“We’re looking at people very experienced in Thoroughbred racing, looking at people who have experience more in hospitality and setting up destinations; people with a very strong business background,” Skorton said.

“We have heard through the blogosphere that people were concerned we already had one or two people lined up and this whole thing was for show, but it really isn’t."

While Skorton would not specify a timetable, he did say that he hopes to have someone in place by June.

Meanwhile, Skorton has charged board member Michael DelGiudice to recommend an interim leadership team within two weeks because acting NYRA CEO and president Ellen McClain will leave the company on April 30.

By the time a new leader is appointed, NYRA will have attempted to introduce legislation that would enable it to put betting machines in a variety of New York City bars and restaurants, essentially attempting to revive the NYC OTB market that has been dormant since that company’s demise in 2010.

Stuart Subotnick, chairman of NYRA’s Finance Committee, said that it is NYRA’s desire to be in 10 restaurants and bars in 2014 and 40 establishments overall within three years.

Subotnick said that NYRA would gain a net income of $2.8 million in 2014, growing to $15.7 million by 2017. Subotnick said that when fully operational, the state would receive $4.2 million annually. However, NYRA must quickly draft legislation and have it introduced before the legislative session ends in June.

“We need state approval, we need legislation, we have to get approvals at city level,” Subotnick said. “This is not a done deal.”

Bobby Flay, a board member and restaurateur in the city, said that NYRA could get resistance from city community boards.

NYRA continues to explore the feasibility of installing synthetic surfaces at Aqueduct and or Belmont. A synthetic surface would be in addition to the turf and dirt courses already in place, not as a replacement for dirt. Synthetics are not being discussed for Saratoga.

At Aqueduct, the thinking is that the inner track could be replaced by a synthetic surface while the main track would be winterized.

At Belmont, a synthetic surface would possibly be installed inside the two turf courses and help keep field sizes together when rain forces races off the turf.

P.J. Campo, the NYRA director of racing, said that by reducing scratches, a synthetic surface at Belmont “would pay for itself in two to three years.”

Campo said that by putting in a synthetic surface at Aqueduct, “you attract a whole other group of horses [and trainers] that never stay for the winter.”

Glen Kozak, NYRA’s director of racing surfaces, brought in four samples of Polytrack - one from Woodbine, two from Keeneland and one from WinStar Farm - to show members of the Equine Safety Committee, but he did not offer an opinion on which one was preferred.

In other topics discussed:
* According to NYRA statistics, the fatality rate at Aqueduct’s inner track declined from 4.0 per 1000 starters in 2011-12 to 1.6 per 1000 starters in 2012-13. There were 17 fewer racing days and 151 fewer races run this winter than last year.
NYRA reported six racing-related equine fatalities during the inner-track meet - there were 20 last year - and reported two other equine deaths that were not considered racing related.

There were two additional horses - Volition and Baby Zapper - who were vanned off from races at Aqueduct and who were later euthanized but were not mentioned in the report.

* For the first quarter of 2013, NYRA reported a 3 percent increase in daily average handle, but noted that because of a reduction in racing days, handle was down from $488 million in 2012 to $400 million in 2013.

There were 51 racing days in the first quarter of 2013, compared with 64 racing days in 2012, according to McClain.

* The NYRA board passed a resolution to go with Am-Tote to replace its current tote operator United Tote. That is likely to begin in the fall.

* Skorton assigned an ad-hoc committee to review a contract with the Global Betting Exchange, a company that would enhance the online wagering experience for bettors as well as help NYRA better connect with its customers.

A contract with GBE was defined by several board members as a “revenue driver” but has been met with some resistance from other board members because it is a sole source contract.