08/06/2007 11:00PM

Spitzer as yet undecided about N.Y. bidders


SARATOGA SPRINGS , N.Y. - Gov. Eliot Spitzer currently has "no plan" on his recommendation to award the franchise held by the New York Racing Association, according to his general counsel, Richard Rifkin, but still expects to make that recommendation by a self-imposed deadline of Sept. 4.

Rifkin, speaking at a Tuesday conference held at the Gideon Putnam hotel here by the Albany Law School's Racing and Gaming Law Program, said that Spitzer was still studying a handful of critical issues regarding the franchise issue, including the closing and redevelopment of Aqueduct, the split of the franchise into separate racing and slot-machine gambling divisions, the legalization of slot machines at Belmont Park, and reform of the state's oft-criticized offtrack betting network. Spitzer, however, has not arrived at any solution to those issues, but intends to make his full plan known by Sept. 4.

"He intends to keep to that schedule," Rifkin said. "Before that, everything else is speculation."

NYRA's franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga Race Course, along with the right to open a slot-machine casino at Aqueduct, expires at the end of this year. Four bidders, including NYRA, have indicated they are interested in gaining the right to operate the tracks and casino.

Rifkin appeared at the law conference on the day that the four bidders were told to submit revised plans to Spitzer that would take into account the governor's desire to consider a split of the business and any changes to any of the bidders' existing structures. At the conference, representatives of all four groups indicated that they intended to comply with the request for submissions by the end of Tuesday.

Jeff Perlee, the chief executive of one of the bidding groups, Empire Racing Associates, said the group would submit a revised plan "to reflect the priorities of the decision-makers in Albany," a reference to the fact that both Spitzer and the legislature have to approve the awarding of the franchise. Perlee declined to provide details about the revised plan.

Later in the day, Empire Racing issued a release that said it had modified its for-profit proposal to advocate for the creation of a not-for-profit racing authority that would run the racing side of the operation. Empire Racing - which lost the endorsement of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association last month and had earlier called for a for-profit model - said that the new racing entity would "contract out" the day-to-day management of the racetracks and casino operations to a "qualified, business-oriented operator."

Karl O'Farrell, the chief executive of another bidding group, Capital Play Pty, said that his group has submitted a revised plan that included the addition of the Australia-based Victoria Racing Club and the New York-based development company Extell Development.

Stephen Duncker, the chairman of NYRA, said that the association would submit a plan that did not differ significantly from its previous submission. NYRA, which has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, has called for a nonprofit company that reinvests its profits in the racing association.

A spokeswoman for Excelsior Racing Associates, the fourth bidder, said that the group would submit a revised plan that would differ significantly from its previous for-profit bid and confirmed that Excelsior had taken on the Related Companies as a development partner. Related Companies is a New York-based real-estate development and management company.