07/27/2006 12:00AM

Woodbine joins Empire in bid


Woodbine Entertainment Group, the operator of Woodbine Racecourse outside Toronto and a partner with the provincial government in a slot-machine casino, has joined Empire Racing Associates in a bid to win the franchise held by the New York Racing Association, the two groups announced on Thursday.

Woodbine becomes the second major company to join Empire's bid for the NYRA franchise, which expires on Dec. 31, 2007. Earlier this month, Empire said that Delaware North Companies, an owner and operator of racetracks and casinos, would also partner with the group.

The bidding process for the franchise is being overseen by the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing, which has set a deadline of Aug. 29 for potential bidders to respond to a request for proposals that it released in June. The request for proposals asks bidders to put a value on the ability to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course for the next 20 years, under a mix of scenarios and changes to New York's complex racing law.

The addition of Woodbine adds a deep-pocketed not-for-profit corporation to Empire's bid. Woodbine, which hosted the Breeders' Cup in 1996, has used revenues from a lucrative slot-machine casino to double purses and completely renovate its flagship track since slots were legalized at the track in 2000. The company also owns and operates 27 off-track betting parlors in Canada; Mohawk Raceway in Campbellville, Ontario; and a internet-betting operation called Horseplayer Interactive.

Empire Racing was formed earlier this year by a number of New York business and political leaders to bid on the franchise. Prior to announcing its formation, Empire sought out and received support from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which received an equity stake in the organization for its exclusive endorsement of the group.