August 12, 2016
Tom LaMarra, Blood-Horse

A decision on the re-privatization of the New York Racing Association will have to wait until next year—at the earliest—but groups in the city of Saratoga Springs are taking full advantage of the well-attended summer race meet to reiterate their position in advance of the 2017 legislative session.

Front yards on streets near Saratoga Race Course are dotted with signs that display the Twitter hashtag “WhoaCuomo” over a stop sign. They are part of a campaign that began earlier this year by groups such as the Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing and the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, members of which opposed the delay in NYRA re-privatization as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to cap the revenue the racing association gets from video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The chamber of commerce and the concerned citizens’ group sent Cuomo a letter inviting him to Saratoga during the 2016 race meet.

“We’d like to spend some time with you at the Saratoga Race Course watching a couple of races,” the letter said. “This historic setting offers everyone a special opportunity to explain why we feel so strongly that NYRA should be re-privatized as a private not-for-profit corporation without altering the franchise agreement.”

As part of a long-term franchise agreement tied in part to legislation that permitted Aqueduct to have a VLT facility, NYRA currently earns 7.5% of the net win from the Resorts World Casino for purses, 4% for capital improvements, and 3% for operations. The breed development fund gets 1.5%.

From April 2015 to March 2016, the last full fiscal year, Resorts World’s net win was $845.9 million. Given the percentages, $63.4 million went to overnight purses and stakes, $33.8 million for capital projects, and $23.3 million for operations.

The $12.6 million generated for breed development went directly to the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund.

Saratoga Race Course, like Belmont Park, shares in the VLT revenue generated at Aqueduct but never was considered as a host site for VLTs. In fact, the local chamber of commerce in 2002 opposed installation of VLTs at Saratoga Raceway, a harness track, but the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors approved the plan; the facility is a major year-round attraction for the region.

Re-privatization was stalled for another year after a bill failed to pass during the most recent legislative session. Lawmakers opposed Cuomo’s proposal, which would have maintained far more state oversight of the racing association.

During an Aug. 9 panel discussion at the Saratoga Institute on Equine Law, Racing and Gaming, it was noted placing a cap on VLT proceeds for NYRA would violate the franchise agreement as well as legislated percentages.

On the proposed $46 million cap on VLT revenue for NYRA, Bennett Liebman, a longtime law scholar and former adviser to Cuomo on racing and gaming matters, said: “You can argue legislatively that too much is going to racing and not enough for education, but the franchise agreement guaranteed funds for NYRA.”

Liebman also suggested the future NYRA board could look much like it does today.

Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who chairs that chamber’s Racing and Gaming Committee, said he expects action on re-privatization in 2017.

“This was supposed to be a short-term exercise,” Pretlow said the original three-year state oversight period that is now in its fifth year. “I think racing should be handled by racing entities. Hopefully the governor next year will be more comfortable with our proposals.”