03/09/2006 1:00AM

Proposed law puts slots at Belmont


Friends of New York Racing, the Thoroughbred industry advocacy group, announced proposed legislation on Thursday that calls for slot machines at Belmont Park and many changes that would help clear the way for a traditional for-profit operator of the franchise currently held by the New York Racing Association.

The proposed legislation was largely based on work that Friends of New York Racing had already completed, pared down from an 89-page proposal written in conjunction with the Racing and Wagering Program of Albany Law School earlier this year.

Along with slots at Belmont, the proposed legislation would legalize rebate programs and betting over the Internet in New York as well as remove restrictions on out-of-state wagering companies from taking bets from New York residents. The legislation would also change the way that tax rates are applied to Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga, the three tracks operated by the New York Racing Association under a franchise that expires on Dec. 31, 2007.

Tim Smith, president of Friends of New York, said on Thursday that the proposed legislation contained only the portions of the earlier proposal that would be palatable for legislators to enact this year. The earlier proposal was a more comprehensive reform of racing law.

"We tried to take a half-dozen or so priority points to get the process started this year," Smith said. "It's a difficult year to get any big legislation passed because it's an election year."

The legislation would add language to existing New York law that would allow for-profit companies to bid on the racing franchise and allow the state's six publicly owned off-track betting companies to form partnerships with private companies. Friends said in a statement that the language would clarify existing law that appears to prohibit any company other than a non-profit from operating the franchise.

The Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing in New York, which was formed last year by the state to devise the requests for proposals to operate the franchise, is exploring the possibility of allowing for-profit companies to operate the tracks and a slots casino at Aqueduct. The committee is also expected to consider ways to give incentives to the state's OTB corporations to merge with the racing operator.

Friends of New York was created late in 2004 to conduct research and develop recommendations in advance of the effort to award the racing franchise. The group was funded by a variety of racing organizations and individuals.

Smith said on Thursday that Friends of New York would be dissolved with the announcement of the model legislation but that he would stay on as an unpaid advisor through the end of March to shepherd the proposal through the initial legislative stages.