And we're not talking about the near panic that was created here, in this “city in the country.” We're referring to those who could have afforded the shutdown least: Backstretch workers and mutuel clerks, ushers and hot dog vendors, horsemen not named Pletcher or Mott or McLaughlin, Gomez or Velazquez or Prado.
While it’s comforting to know that the world's best thoroughbred racing will be conducted in New York without man-made interruption for the next 25 years, and that well healed tourists can begin contacting real estate brokers or making hotel reservations for August, what was really accomplished by all this wrangling, the needless, costly delays?
Just how has this broken model--referenced by all parties and resulting in the passage of VLT legislation six years ago to benefit the state’s major racetracks and the taxpayers of the State of New York-- been fixed, exactly? Five years of VLT revenues all gone to hell because the people's interests weren't as important as the agenda of Albany power brokers.
What are we supposed to make of benchmarks that require the newly reconstituted New York Racing Association to “use its best efforts” to reach handle and performance standards? What standards? Are we using attendance figures from the ‘70s? Handle figures from the ‘00s? Last year‘s figures from both?
And why was OTB supposedly seeking to opt out of simulcasting NYRA races, according to a story on Bloodhorse.com, when the NYRA races are OTB’s volume leader?
That didn’t make sense. OTB generates handle sufficient enough to negotiate its own deals. NYC-OTB alone handles a billion annually and basically it sets the price for the other regions. OTB simply wanted the ability to simulcast other tracks in the event of a negotiations breakdown with the local franchise holder.
The NYRA--left for dead over a year ago after Excelsior Racing was awarded a racing and gaming franchise at the state’s three major tracks by Gov. George Pataki’s Ad Hoc Committee on Racing--has been resurrected, virtually in tact. Recent history became ancient when voters decided to replace one governor and one political party with another.
Excelsior no longer even exists. Remember when they were supposed to be the ones having very close ties to sitting governor?
And so it turns out the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the NYRA had legs, the association playing its land card beautifully. While Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, the major obstructionist in all this, was allowed to save face, make no mistake: The governor and NYRA were the big winners.
According to some of the significant terms of the 25-year franchise extension agreement announced Wednesday--as opposed to the one floated last weekend--NYRA gets a $105-million in operating capital, forgiveness of $120-million in state debt, and added money for purses. The state takes title to all three racetrack properties valued at about a billion dollars. What might it be worth on Jan. 1, 2034?
Each made political gains, too. The interim plan had the NYRA board reconstituted from 28 members to 21, including present political appointees, NYRA retaining 11 of the 20 members.
But the final agreement reduces the NYRA board from 28 to 25. NYRA gets to keep 14 of the 25, better proportional representation which, politics notwithstanding, makes better business sense. It’s chairman, Steven Duncker, is limited to one four-year term.
It’s a win for the governor because he gets to make seven of the 11 state appointees. Four of the remaining seats will be held by the OTBs collectively, horsemen, breeders, and a union member representing the New York chapter of the AFL-CIO. Added to the NYRA executive board will be one appointee each from the House and Senate.
The state oversight board, created when the serious NYRA problems began a few years ago, will remain and given more power. But the current members will be replaced, another loss for Bruno, as now the governor gets to make the majority of appointments to the five-member board.
It was also a win for this community and for Queens residents as well. NYRA must meet with community advisory boards semi-annually before it can act on future real estate development plans. The loser here was Nassau County, which failed to get either this courtesy or the racino it wanted for Belmont Park.
Horsemen did relatively well. The state’s breeders will get 1.5% of VLT revenues by year three and purses will increase by 7.5% in that same period. After payouts, NYRA will retain 7% of the VLT revenues, 3% for racing operations and 4% for improvements and renovations. For this, they pay New York State a franchise fee annually.
Wednesday’s legislation did not address the NYC-OTB issue in particular or the OTB scenario in the overall. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is holding to his threat to shut down all OTB branches within the five boroughs. The former needs to be addressed by June; the latter, a complex matter involving revenues to the counties and jobs, won’t be addressed until the earliest mid-2009. After all, this is an election year.
The elephant in the room is the franchise to run the VLT operations, to be determined next month. Two bidders remain: Capital Play, represented by lobbyist Kenneth Bruno, and SL Green, a consortium of investors coupled with the remnants of the original Empire Racing group, to which Kenneth’s father, Joseph, was tethered. Capisci?