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Audit: Old Problems Persist At NYRA

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

Problems persist within the long-troubled New York Racing Association’s financial planning operations, according to a recent audit by the office of New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

This week’s audit of the organization that was subjected to a state takeover three years ago to improve its finances and operations says some old problems still remain. 

The audit took a look at NYRA’s capital plan and various projects around the state. Comptroller’s office spokesman Mark Johnson says a total of 25 projects worth about $7 million were put under the microscope. Auditors found not all of the projects were included on required annual financial plans, and each of the plans listed projects that weren’t completed.

“It leads to questions over how adequate NYRA is planning for its future and making sure that its priorities are straight in getting its capital projects completed,” said Johnson.

Johnson said NYRA needs to implement a formal project management system and provide better details about what each project needs and why, and give project timeframes.

“These are things that were all missing and auditors note that this is an organization that recently emerged from bankruptcy protection. It should have better financial plans in place to assure that all its dollars are spent accordingly,” said Johnson.

NYRA, which runs Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga, entered into a bankruptcy settlement agreement with the state in 2008. The state bailed out the organization damaged by numerous scandals and declining revenues.

In 2012, the state took over NYRA and put in place a new reorganization board, which has had some success in turning the organization around. The 2015 racing season has been strong, buoyed by the Triple Crown win of American Pharoah, which helped energize racing fans. Attendance and wagering were up over last year.

John Durso, Jr., NYRA Director of Communications, said in a statement that the Comptroller’s audit proves that NYRA has obtained and spent VLT funds appropriately and that “adequate controls” are in place.

Durso said NYRA disagrees with the Comptroller’s conclusions regarding the organization’s capital planning.

He says “for example, we are engaged in such planning in Saratoga with various stakeholders including the Franchise Oversight Board. NYRA will continue to focus on building profitability by energizing racing, continuing to deliver a world class fan experience, and attracting the finest racehorses in the world to New York State, consistent with the statutory mission given to us by the Governor and the Legislature.”

Earlier this year, NYRA’s board chair of less than two months, Anthony Bonomo, stepped down after his company was linked to the indictment of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and son Adam Skelos. Bonomo was not charged or named in the incident; his company allegedly arranged a no-show job for Adam Skelos.

NYRA’s next board meeting is scheduled for October 21st in New York City. Recently, a new board member from Saratoga Springs was appointed to the board..

Georgie Nugent Lussier is the first full-time Saratoga resident to join the board since the departure of Charles Wait, who had served the organization for three decades.

Lussier says she is reviewing the Comptroller’s audit.

To see the audit clickhere

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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