Casinos? Check. Horse Racing? At the Gate.

Casinos? Check. Horse Racing? At the Gate.

Casinos? Check. Horse Racing? At the Gate.
January 19, 2015

The state Legislature has already done the heavy lifting on gambling in recent years, paving the way for three—or, once again, perhaps four—full-fledged commercial casinos in upstate New York.

The remaining business that is now before the state’s legislative committees on racing and wagering is less glitzy, but there is one major issue that it could confront this year: what to do with the New York Racing Association.

The nonprofit entity, which runs the state’s three biggest horse racing operations at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga, has been widely criticized as dysfunctional and poorly run. Following a ticket payout scandal in 2012, Gov. Andrew Cuomo created a temporary state reorganization board to reform it.

The public oversight board’s three-year task of reorganizing NYRA comes to a close this year, and state officials will have to determine what to do next with the organization. Last month NYRA projected it would have an operating surplus, something it had not achieved in over a decade, citing successful efforts to cut costs and increase revenues, but also bolstered by expanding revenue from the slot-machine casino at Aqueduct.

“They’ve been talking about privatizing,” said Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, the chair of the Racing and Wagering Committee. “I’m totally opposed to the privatization of NYRA, but it depends on what privatization is. If it’s similar to what it was prior to this board taking over, that would be fine. But if it’s selling the franchise to, say, Twin Spires or Churchill Downs, I’d be opposed to that.”

Cuomo took the lead in reorganizing NYRA, but he had to partner with lawmakers to create the oversight board. Any further steps would also require the input of the Legislature.

“Right now the state does own the land,” Pretlow said. “We were actually in control of the board of directors of NYRA, and we can make any changes that we want legislatively.”

State Sen. John Bonacic, Pretlow’s counterpart in the Senate, said he expects further reforms at NYRA and added that he would be monitoring developments. He declined to go into specifics.

“The current NYRA board will be presenting official recommendations on the future governing structure of NYRA,” Bonacic said. “We will review these recommendations and decide how to proceed from there.”

Jon Lentz
is City & State’s editor-in-chief.