08/12/2014 2:58PM

Panel on NYRA reorganization yields few answers


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – What is the future of the New York Racing Association, the state-controlled entity that operates New York’s three biggest tracks?

No one knows. Or if they do, they’re not telling.

Participants on a panel entitled “NYRA Reorganization: Rounding the Far Turn,” held at the annual Saratoga Institute on Racing and Gaming Law Conference on Tuesday in Saratoga Springs, had few answers for what is in store for New York racing next year, when NYRA is set to “revert back to private majority control,” as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said when the state took control of the association’s board back in 2012 by legislative fiat.

The question is complicated by myriad factors, according to the panelists. For one, no one knows what the phrase “revert back to private majority control” means, according to Chris Wittstruck, a racing law specialist who moderated the panel. And no one knows if that’s the plan anyway, since NYRA’s board also must issue recommendations by late April next year on the long-term plan for the association, which most observers believe will include an option to bid out NYRA to private companies.

Wittstruck, an attorney who is a director of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, confirmed during the panel that NYRA’s chief executive, Chris Kay, was invited to be on the panel but declined to appear, and that his office declined to send a NYRA representative. In addition, a state-appointed member of the NYRA board initially accepted an invitation to appear but backed out, Wittstruck said, declining to name the director.

Even the possibility of bidding NYRA out is clouded by uncertainty. NYRA directors and state officials have trial-ballooned shuttering Aqueduct, but no one has committed to that plan. NYRA is widely believed to want to open OTBs in New York City, but it’s unclear how that plan would go forward. Is Saratoga’s frequently expanded meet going to be expanded further? Is a renovated or torn-down-and-rebuilt Belmont Park going to be the home of winter racing i n New York?

All of those unresolved issues would have a major impact on the value of NYRA and, more importantly, the willingness of private entities to make a bid on the association. Private bidders also would be wary of the state’s potential future involvement in NYRA’s operations, considering the history of the relationship between the two entities and the state’s claim on NYRA’s deeds and its franchise to operate the three tracks, Wittstruck said.

“Who would want to bid on [NYRA] knowing that the state giveth, and the state, in a fit of pique, can take away?” Wittstruck said.

Richard Violette, the head of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the organization’s representative on the NYRA board, said on the panel that whatever happens with New York’s tracks, horsemen will be opposed to any plan that does away with winter racing, citing the reliance of year-round trainers and state breeders on the purses and awards available during the season.

“Aqueduct has as much vital importance to racing in New York as Saratoga,” Violette said.

But it’s also not clear that horsemen will have much of a say in the matter. Since the state authorized casinos in 2001, New York’s legislators have shown far more deference to the needs of casinos than the racing industry’s. That’s another factor complicating the calculus of the future of NYRA, which receives approximately 7.5 percent of the revenues from a casino adjacent to Aqueduct for operations and capital expenditures.

Horsemen and breeders receive another 7 percent of those revenues from the casino as subsidies. But those subsidies, like NYRA’s, are contained in a law, and laws can be changed. Even now, the casino lobby is pressing for a higher cut of the revenues from gambling, either through lower tax rates or a reduction in the revenues flowing to other parties, including racing.

Violette said the current activity over the licensing of new casinos in New York, which will not be required to provide subsidies for racing, has made horsemen nervous about supporting any plan “absent some kind of iron-clad promise that racing revenue will be protected.”


Richard Land More than 1 year ago
The common wisdom is that one viable buyer will present themselves, purchase all three facilities and either operate all 3 tracks or possibly close Aqueduct once Belmont Park is updated. Let's explore some possibilities outside of the "one buyer" scenario. AQUEDUCT: Is purchased by Genting. Genting updates the non-casino part of the facility and operates a very exclusive racing club open only to members and horse owners. The riff raff and the hoi polloi would be relegated to watching the races at clean, modern OTB facilities to be operated by Genting in the five boroughs. Aqueduct at Genting racing is conducted between Thanksgiving week and April 15. Belmont: Frank Stronach, even at age 83, would not be able to resist purchasing Belmont. Belmont races from April 15 - July 20 and September 5 - Thanksgiving week. Saratoga: races July 20- September 1 and is operated by a downsized NYRA like quasi public corporation. Hows that, Walt Gekko?
william More than 1 year ago
Violette is nervous? Maidens are racing for 85K.
William Eisele More than 1 year ago
if it were your livilhood you people would understand exactly what rick violette is saying
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
I know it only too well...both in North America and Europe. And the fact is that quality is the product of the survival of the fittest and in North American racing there are too many people looking for a hand-out...and that is why the sport is in such a mess.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Rick Violette, like many other deluded people in North American horse racing, does not seem to understand that horse racing owes nothing to anybody. And the future is going to be fewer tracks and shorter meets that feature larger fields, better quality racing, better wagering returns and better overall entertainment for the fans, not year-round 5-horse fields to keep a few horsemen (who probably should be doing something else) in business. In Europe, trainers have to own or lease their own training facilities and their survival is up to them. But in North America stabling is free, and this spawns entitlement which just leads to mediocrity.
Biggar W More than 1 year ago
How do the number of horses and races in Europe compare to the same numbers here in North America? I have no idea so am trying to learn.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Good question, for which I don't have an answer. The fact is, though, that they all manage without medication and the result is big fields, competitive betting and great entertainment. In England, their only problem is that Bookmakers handle 90% + of the action and return a pittance to the sport, which means that purses are very low.
Shawn Britton More than 1 year ago
Thats why many horses come here to usa.
Zanzibar More than 1 year ago
Number 3 - NYRA needs to work with NY to get some of these crappy regulations off the books. For example, get rid of the restriction of no live racing or NYRA rewards wagering on Palm and Easter Sundays. Get rid of restrictions that live racing must be completed before a certain time. Night racing once a week, like what Churchill Downs does, might improve the product.
Shawn Britton More than 1 year ago
Well put. But bigger question is how long are these idiots going to keep blowing their brains out in these casinos? That hurts handle in the long run
Zanzibar More than 1 year ago
Number 1 is either you have to unload Aqueduct to the State or Gentry and in return, use those funds to pay off debts and turn Belmont Park into a year-round facility, and continue enhancements at Saratoga. No need for two race tracks 7 miles apart. Number 2 is Friday-Saturday-(maybe Sunday) racing between Breeders Cup weekend and Wood Memorial weekend. The people are getting sick of 4 horse fields on a Wednesday in January while Gulfstream Park has full fields. No need for anything more than 3 days a week racing during the winter.
Tom Callahan More than 1 year ago
Zanzi, many points here are well taken. Every sport does better with a season. But getting racing from state to state to agree has proven impossible. I for one would love NY racing to run March 1 to December 1, shutter the Big A, keep Saratoga exactly the length it is, winterize Belmont, run only weekend cards in March and November, and let December-March quality racing belong to Gulfstream and Santa Anita. That would allow NYRA to stage a new version of their "super days" as super weekends in March and April, with top notch racing. We all love full fields of good horses. I am a New Yorker who hasnt made a bet on a race at Aqueduct (excluding Cigar Mile Day and Wood Day) in 10 years. And I actually would go to opening day at Belmont in march if it meant something!