Tuesday, February 12, 2008

doomsday scenario for track

Posted on Tue, Feb 12, 2008 Zoom + | Zoom -
Scott: Doomsday scenario arrives in New York
By JEFF SCOTT, From off the pace
In recent weeks, as NYRA’s franchise and its first short-term extension were about to expire, it still didn’t seem possible that racing in New York would be shut down. There was simply too much at stake for everyone involved.

Based on statements issued Monday by NYRA, however, it now appears a shutdown is all but inevitable. If a new long-term agreement is not reached in the meantime, NYRA will suspend racing following Wednesday’s card at Aqueduct.

The delay in getting the franchise issue settled has primarily been because of Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s opposition to recommendations put forward by Gov. Eliot Spitzer (and approved by NYRA) last September. Protracted negotiations resulted in a new proposed bill that was reviewed by NYRA officials over the weekend.

On Monday, NYRA Chairman C. Steven Duncker expressed dissatisfaction with the new legislation. According to Duncker, the proposed bill “does not provide the proper business model and economic terms that permits (sic) NYRA to emerge from bankruptcy, nor does it correct the broken business model of thoroughbred racing in New York, a broken model that can only worsen and further imperil the industry under the legislation currently proposed.”

Since everyone agrees that the business model under which NYRA has operated no longer works — if in fact it ever did — one would hope any new franchise agreement would be sure to provide a more acceptable framework. NYRA officials obviously don’t think that has happened. And since they’re the ones who would have to live with the thing, their opinion has to be respected.

NYRA also has to be careful not to sign on to an agreement which, in effect, might set it up to fail. Because there are plenty of people who would like to see that happen, beginning with those who have been associated with rival bidders on the franchise.

Which brings us back to Senator Bruno, who has been an outspoken critic of Spitzer’s recommendations (and NYRA) from the beginning. But what exactly is behind his opposition?

To what degree has Bruno’s stance been based on his ongoing feud with the governor and a desire to put his own stamp on the franchise process? Why was Bruno so adamant about splitting the racing aspect of the franchise among different operators — an idea opposed by virtually everyone — even as NYRA emerged as the only entity with a serious interest in the job?

Finally, what connection, if any, does Bruno have with Capital Play Inc, one of the

four original bidders on the franchise?

Excelsior Racing and Empire Racing, the other two non-NYRA bidders, have effectively ceased to exist. The Australia-based Capital Play, however, is still very much on the scene and (according to Bruno) is one of two finalists being considered to run the proposed slots operation at Aqueduct. Bruno’s son Kenneth, by the way, is reportedly employed as a lobbyist for — you guessed it — Capital Play.

Capital Play’s website includes bold claims about all the wonderful things it would do for New York racing if given the chance. All of this racing talk, however, is strictly for show. If the Aqueduct slots were taken off the table, those Aussies would be on the next plane back to Sydney.

One of the scariest aspects of this whole sorry situation is that if no agreement is reached, and racing is indeed halted, no one is sure what would happen next. With NYRA no longer having the legal right to operate racing, authority would pass to an oversight board dominated by political appointees from the Pataki administration.

Any attempt to continue racing under another operator would be countered by NYRA’s contention that it, not the State of New York, actually owns the tracks. The matter then would disappear into the courts, perhaps for years, with racing forced into indefinite hiatus.

This doomsday scenario, of course, is something no one who really cares about horse racing wants to see happen. At this late hour, however, it may take a miracle to keep the process from being set in motion.

Jeff Scott writes about horse racing Tuesday in The Saratogian. He may be reached at utahpine1@aol.com.

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