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NYRA Reorganization Delay Creates Headaches For Some In Saratoga County

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The New York Racing Association (NYRA) hopes to continue to operate the Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct tracks.

As part of New York’s new budget, the embattled New York Racing Association, currently controlled by a state-appointed board of directors, has had its reorganization deadline pushed back another year. Now officials who had looked forward to the re-privatization of the organization are expressing their concerns.

According to language in New York’s recently agreed-upon budget, the maximum term of the NYRA Reorganization Board of Directors has been extended from three years to four years. The board, formed in 2012, has been tasked with taking over the organization and developing a reorganization plan, which was originally due this October.

Now that the date has been pushed back another year, local officials who had hoped to see a re-privatized NYRA are concerned. NYRA runs the thoroughbred tracks at Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga.

This week, Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Shimkus and Rod Sutton, secretary of the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency, went to the county Board of Supervisors to share information about the economic impact of the Saratoga Race Course on the local economy.

Sutton said the delay creates uncertainty for business owners and others in the region.

“We would just like a little bit more focus in stability as to where racing is going in the future. And also for the owners, breeders, and trainers - they need to know as well.”

Matt Veitch, Chair of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, says he agrees that with another year under state control, the county cannot take into account many long-term plans.

“The downside of it is that we don’t have a consistency of a NYRA organization that we know we can talk to and what happens going forward.”

Veitch said he finds it a bit disconcerting that the changeover was delayed another year.

“What that does is it puts on the backburner some of the long-term plans for NYRA and the tracks and the capital improvements that need to be made at Saratoga, the long-term concern about scheduling of the meet; how many days, how long it’s going to be. And also for the community having some consitency knowing who we deal with at NYRA going forward.”

Buoyed by revenues from VLT gambling at Aqueduct, the state-appointed NYRA reorganization board in 2014 managed to bring the organization back in the black. The organization had not seen profits in a decade. 

At the last NYRA board meeting, held last December, Susanne Stover, NYRA Senior Vice President and CFO, said the organization was on track to turn a profit.

“We are currently forecasting the full year of 2014 to achieve a $1.5 million operating profit before VLT funds, which is an improvement over the $250,000 operating profit budgeted, and a dramatic improvement over the $12.9 million operating loss incurred in 2013.”

The next NYRA board meeting is scheduled for later this month.

Visiting Saratoga Springs last month, NYRA CEO Chris Kay remarked on a report showing the economic impact of Saratoga Race Course on the Capital Region economy. According to the report, the 40-day meet generates $237 million in economic activity and 2,600 jobs.

Since 2011, the economic benefits of the track have been have increased 9 percent.

“I think this is the kind of the thing, I hope everyone will understand how important it is, because this kind of economic impact to the entire Capital Region is huge. Everybody benefits from it. And we’re so proud that we play such an important role in that effort,” said Kay.

At the same time, Kay had said NYRA’s reorganization plan was close to completion.

Now, the delay confuses Veitch, the county supervisor. 

“To me it’s a little bit, I don’t want to say confusing, but it definitely is a little bit disconcerting that we’ve done everything on our side to keep our end of the bargain, or at least NYRA has, so I’m a little bit not understanding why it’s been delayed another year.”

NYRA the Governor Cuomo’s press office did not respond to requests for comment about the extension.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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