New York budget legislation includes ‘privatization’ of NYRA

Posted: Jan. 19, 2017

Budget legislation offered by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo would give the New York Racing Association the power to appoint the majority of members on a 15-person board of directors, but it also grants the NYRA Franchise Oversight more financial oversight.

The “privatization” plan is included in a section of the lengthy fiscal 2018 budget proposal. Another portion of the bill calls for horsemen and racetracks rather than the state to pick up the tab for equine drug testing and research under the New York State Gaming Commission; the amount is unclear given the fact tracks and horsemen already pay millions of dollars in NYSGC regulatory fees each year.

The NYRA board is currently 17 members, with the majority appointed by the governor. The new scheme would allow NYRA to appoint eight members—including the president and chief executive officer, currently Christopher Kay—and the governor six members, one on the recommendation of the head of the Senate and one on the recommendation of the leader of the Assembly.

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The governor would appoint the chairperson; the full board must approve of the selection. Under new language, voting members appointed the NYRA executive committee must obtain a “racetrack management license” from the NYSGC in order to have voting rights.

As is now the case, the board would have two ex-officio non-voting members: representatives of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the New York Thoroughbred Breeders.

The Franchise Oversight Board, which monitors and enforces performance standards at NYRA, would remain in place. But it will would be granted more authority under the budget bill.

The new language reads as follows:

“When the Franchise Oversight Board determines the financial position of the franchised corporation has deviated materially from the franchised corporation’s financial plan, or other such related documents provided to the franchise oversight board, or when the implementation of such plan would, in the opinion of the Franchise Oversight Board, pose a significant risk to the liquidity of the franchised corporation,” the board may “hire, at the expense of the franchised corporation, an independent financial adviser to evaluate the financial position of the franchised corporation and report on such to the Franchise Oversight Board; and require the franchised corporation to submit for the Franchise Oversight Board’s approval a corrective action plan addressing any concerns identified as risks by (the board).”

The legislation also states when the Franchise Oversight Board “finds the franchised corporation has experienced two consecutive years of material losses due to circumstances within the control of the franchised corporation, as determined by the Franchise Oversight Board, the board may by majority vote request the director of the budget to impound and escrow racing supporting payments accruing to the benefit of the franchised corporation until the franchised corporation achieves the goals of a board-approved corrective action plan addressing concerns identified by the board. The director of the budget may, upon warrant of the (board) approve the use of withheld racing support payments necessary to satisfy financial instruments used to fund board-approval capital investments.”

Cuomo’s legislation also opens the door for changes at Aqueduct Racetrack and Belmont Park.

NYRA would have the option of offering fewer than 95 days of racing at Aqueduct from December through April, but only if the New York THA and NYTB agree in writing to the plan and the NYSGC approves. Belmont would be permitted to offer live racing after sunset but would have to coordinate its post times with Empire City at Yonkers Raceway in Westchester County to ensure Thoroughbred and Standardbred races are “staggered.”

Equine drug testing is now performed at Morrisville State College in upstate New York. The budget legislation changes the mandate that testing be done at a “state college within this state with an approved equine science program” to instead allow the NYSGC to use its discretion in selecting “a suitable laboratory or laboratories located in New York State.”

As for expenses, the bill removes language that funding come from the state treasury and states that all equine drug testing and research would be paid through “an assessment the commission may make on horsemen entering horses in races, an assessment the commission may make on racetracks, or both.”

(Belmont Park photo courtesy of Susie Raisher/NYTHA)