Lawmakers agree on NYRA bill
Updated: June 18, 2012, 4:15 PM ETBy Tom Precious | Bloodhorse
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have reached an accord on the temporary takeover of the New York Racing Association by the state government. The New York State Racing Franchise Accountability and Transparency Act of 2012, introduced June 16, will create a new 17-member board of directors at the troubled racing group that state officials insist will end its oversight in three years. The legislation is set to be adopted before lawmakers end their 2012 session later this week. "The Legislature finds and declares a strong horse racing and breeding industry to be a valuable contributor to the New York state economy and a tourism generator for the entire state,'' the legislation states. The bill comes after increasing impatience by state government officials with NYRA after a series of problems, including the takeout scandal that saw bettors overcharged by more than $8 million, and the equine deaths this past winter at Aqueduct Racetrack. Various factors including the possible legalization of non-Indian casinos in New York require, the legislation states, the "temporary structural change'' at NYRA. The new structure is intended, it notes, to work "in the best interest of all stakeholders in horse racing, including fans, owners and breeders, by managing the state racing franchise with transparency and accountability.'' Though state officials could change their mind in three years and extend the life of the new state-run board, the legislation envisions the new panel's power expiring in three years and returning to private control as a not-for-profit entity. But the new board must report within 180 days prior to their powers expiring on a plan for how NYRA should be structured into the future. What impact that will have on NYRA's franchise to operate Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course remains uncertain. Under the legislation, the 17-member board will be composed of five members appointed by the existing NYRA board, eight by the governor and two apiece by the leaders of the state Senate and Assembly. The governor gets to nominate a board chair, upon approval by a majority of the new board. Two non-voting members will be recommended by the state breeders association and the NYRA's horsemen's group; those two members will have a specific charge to provide advice on "critical economic and equine health concerns.'' Members of the New York Racing Association Reorganization Board must disclose on an annual basis to the board any financial interests held in the racing industry by themselves, spouses, or children. The legislation also amends the creation of a new Gaming Commission to oversee various aspects of gambling in New York from Oct. 1 until next February. The current NYRA board has 25 members, 11 of whom are appointed by state officials. The new board puts control of NYRA into the hands of the governor and his eight appointees. The bill envisions no cost to the state by the takeover. "The members of the Reorganization Board have been charged with working in the best interest of all the stakeholders in horse racing and managing the state racing franchise with transparency and accountability,'' according to a memo accompanying the new legislation. The new legislation, introduced at the governor's request, is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Racing Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow. The state takeover was recently agreed to by the NYRA board after Cuomo threatened to possibly move to rescind its exclusive racetrack franchise.