08/15/2011 3:22PM

NYRA tells oversight board of long-term plans

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Officials for the New York Racing Association outlined their long-term plans to return the association to profitability during a sometimes contentious meeting on Monday with an oversight board that has lately expressed concerns about NYRA’s financial condition.

Meeting in Albany, the New York Franchise Oversight Board, headed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s chief of staff, Robert Megna, asked NYRA officials to present the association’s long-term plans after requesting detailed financial statements from the association earlier this year.

During the meeting, NYRA’s chief executive, Charles Hayward, and its chief financial officer, Ellen McClain, repeatedly cited their own concerns over NYRA’s inability to turn a profit in the past several years, but they assured members of the board that the association’s financial performance would improve measurably later this year after a casino opens at NYRA’s Aqueduct racetrack. The casino, which is scheduled to open in October, is expected to provide at least $30 million in subsidies to NYRA for operating expenses and capital improvements.

While much of the questioning from board members during the latter half of the nearly three-hour meeting was cordial, NYRA officials were sharply criticized by some board members during an earlier examination of the association’s contracts with consultants. The criticism centered on whether NYRA had put the contracts out for competitive bid, a frequent criticism of the association in the past.

The oversight board was created in 2008 after NYRA emerged from bankruptcy and signed a 25-year lease with the state to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga. As part of the agreement to emerge from bankruptcy, NYRA transferred the deeds to the tracks to the state.

The board has wide-ranging powers to oversee NYRA’s operations, and it can also issue a recommendation to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board that the association’s lease be revoked. Earlier this year, NYRA officials clashed with the board after the association objected to a board proposal that NYRA make its financial statements public, an objection that set off a flurry of criticisms from politicians and state agencies. NYRA eventually relented.

At Monday’s meeting, Hayward said that NYRA continued to work on a strategic plan that would outline the association’s long-term revenue and costs, but he said that lingering uncertainty over the condition and future of the state’s offtrack betting industry had delayed the development of the plan. Hayward also told the board that NYRA was still considering whether to pursue the establishment of offtrack betting facilities in New York City following the closure late last year of New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation, further delaying the release of the plan.

Hayward asked the board to be patient while NYRA finished the report. “We know that we owe that to you,” he said.