07/21/2016 1:16PM

VLT revenue cap hot topic for NYRA

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Though locally based politicians would prefer Gov. Andrew Cuomo leave the current franchise agreement in place with the New York Racing Association as part of any reprivatization bill, there is reason to believe that a future deal could include some sort of cap on the revenue NYRA receives from the video-lottery terminals in place at Aqueduct.

This spring, the state legislature fought Cuomo’s bid to cap VLT revenue to NYRA at $46 million as part the governor’s proposed reprivatization bill, which eventually stalled. Instead, state control of NYRA – which operates Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga – was extended for a second straight year. Originally, the state was to have a three-year period of control before returning NYRA to private control and a not-for-profit status in 2015.

State Sen. Kathleen Marchione (R-43rd District) said Thursday that she would prefer there is no cap on VLT revenue directed to NYRA, but suggested that it could happen. The next legislative session doesn’t being until January, but Marchione said negotiations will take place well before then.

“We’re still in negotiations over what we would accept and what we wouldn’t,” said Marchione, whose district includes Saratoga County. “I’d like it to continue to stay as it is, and certainly we’ll continue to negotiate, but it would have to be a final number that would not doom NYRA to failure. As we left it in the final legislative session, I really believed it would doom NYRA and there was absolutely no way I would go forward with any legislation that would do that to such an important industry.”

Marchione spoke Thursday morning following a breakfast meeting of the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, during which NYRA president and CEO Chris Kay spoke for 27 minutes about the upcoming Saratoga meet, which begins Friday. Marchione attended along with State Assembly member Carrie Woerner (D-113th District), who represents Saratoga.

Kay took a few questions from the crowd but was a bit vague when asked if NYRA would legally challenge any attempt by Cuomo to alter the franchise agreement, which states that NYRA is to get 7 percent of revenue from the VLTs at Aqueduct.

“We’ll take it one step at a time,” Kay said. “The important thing is we want to be proactive in coming up with good plans and, most importantly, good performance, and our focus during the Saratoga meet is going to be on more good performance.”

An audit by the state comptroller disputed NYRA’s assertions the company has made a profit exclusive of VLT revenues the last two years. Kay reiterated Thursday – as well in an op-ed piece he penned for the Albany-Times Union – that NYRA has indeed been profitable.

“When you take all of our revenue and all of our expenses we made a profit,” Kay said. “Or, if you took the budget for daily racing operations, exclude certain revenues and certain expenses that are beyond our control, we made a profit. Either way, we finished with a profit.”

Kay said that audits performed by the accounting firm KPMG have come back clean, meaning, “Our financial reporting has been accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.”

Kay said that expenses beyond NYRA’s control include retiree benefits, which from 2014-15 grew by 30 percent.