Friday, February 15, 2008
Posted on Thu, Feb 14, 2008 Zoom + | Zoom -
Leaving the starting gate of a 'new era' of racing
By JIM KINNEY, The Saratogian
Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno talks about the passage of the new NYRA franchise, flanked by State Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, left, and Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson. (RICK GARGIULO/The Saratogian)SARATOGA SPRINGS — State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno congratulated others and was congratulated himself Thursday when he held a news conference to discuss NYRA’s new deal with the state to run Saratoga Race Course and two downstate tracks.
“It truly is a new day,” Bruno, R-Brunswick, said at the National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, across the street from the Race Course. “A new era.”
The deal gives NYRA a new board of directors, an oversight board and an advisory committee for each track. Saratoga’s advisory board will have jurisdiction over capital improvements at the track. It will have five members each appointed by the mayor of Saratoga Springs, the county Board of Supervisors and NYRA itself.
The state will also give NYRA $105 million to get the racing firm out of bankruptcy and tide it over until money-making video lottery terminals are up and running at Aqueduct.
Horse owner Daniel Stone said NYRA has been in turmoil over the past few years and the new deal will help. But NYRA still needs more income to stay out of bankruptcy. That money will have to come from VLTs and Off-track betting. The OTBs themselves have to be reorganized.
“The OTB issue is still out there,” Stone, whose wife Carole Stone is on NYRA’s oversight board, said. “But today we are happy.”
Bruno said if it were up to him he would have included VLTs at Belmont as well as Aqueduct in this deal, along with a provision to merge off-track betting operations with NYRA under one leadership.
“We didn’t get there,” Bruno said.
City Accounts Commissioner John Franck said he’s also concerned that the city and county continue to receive a share of VLT revenue from Saratoga Gaming and Raceway. Currently, the localities get $5.1 million a year in VLT money: $3.8 million to the city and $1.3 million to the county.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposed budget eliminates that money from the budget.
“We’ll have to fight for it,” Franck said. “But it isn’t going up. I’ve accepted that our share of that money won’t go up.”
NYRA will continue to pay property taxes both at Saratoga Springs and downstate. NYRA currently pays $500,000 a year in property taxes to the county, city and school district.
Martin Kinsella, executive director of the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding Fund said the deal works for the breeding industry, a big employer and user of farmland in Saratoga County, because the breeding fund is guaranteed 1.5 percent of VLT revenues.
“It basically goes back to the agreement we had four years ago,” he said.
That agreement never went into effect because development of VLTs at Aqueduct stopped as NYRA dealt with financial and legal troubles.
Reach Jim Kinney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-583-8729 ext.216.
Video: Sen. Bruno's remarks during the press conference
Video: Bruno fields questions about the deal