06/06/2007 11:00PM

Three New York bidders to meet with governor


Officials from three of the four groups that have made presentations to receive the franchise held by the New York Racing Association are scheduled to meet with representatives of Gov. Eliot Spitzer on Friday, according to officials of the bidding groups.

According to an official who was involved in planning the sessions, the meetings have been called by Spitzer in order to get feedback on a proposal by Spitzer to separate the racing and slot-machine gambling aspects of the franchise. The franchise includes the right to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga, and a yet-to-be-built casino at Aqueduct.

The official, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, said that the hearings were necessary because of a recent withdrawal by MGM Grand, the casino company, to operate the slot-machine facility at Aqueduct. MGM withdrew from the agreement with NYRA in May, one month after bidding groups made presentations in front of a panel put together by Spitzer to pitch their plans for the franchise.

"The situation has changed, and all the evaluations were upset by that," the official said. "We really believe that the future of racing and gaming in New York is going to require a new structure, with one entity running the ontrack racing operation, and one entity running the gaming side, and so we're seeking feedback from potential operators to see if they'd be interested in that framework."

Richard Rifkin, Spitzer's lead counsel and the chairman of the panel that conducted the hearings in April, will lead the meetings, the official said. Scheduled to meet with Rifkin are officials from Capital Play Pty. Ltd., Empire Racing Associates, and Excelsior Racing Associates.

NYRA has also indicated that it intends to retain the franchise, but NYRA officials will not meet with Rifkin because "we're in discussions with them regularly" because of NYRA's filing for bankruptcy earlier this year, the official said. NYRA and state officials have been negotiating since the beginning of this year on a reorganization plan and other issues related to the bankruptcy.

Any plan to award the franchise would need the approval of the legislature. Most legislators believe that the approvals would not be feasible before scheduled adjournment on June 21, though the legislature could be called into special session later in the year to deal with the issue.