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"Whoa, Cuomo!": Group Advocates For NYRA Reprivatization

Lucas Willard

About a month before the racing season begins, fans gathered in Saratoga Springs today, rejecting a re-privatization plan for the New York Racing Association pitched by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The group is advocating for a plan passed this afternoon by both houses of the state legislature.

“Whoa, Cuomo!”

The chant came from dozens of Saratogians at a press conference hosted by Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing. The group is taking issue with a reported reprivatization plan floated by the governor they believe will divert VLT revenues from local communities to the state’s general fund and maintain largely publicly-appointed control over the New York Racing Association. Since 2012, NYRA has been under state control after years of scandal and financial mismanagement.

Legendary retired race caller Tom Durkin emceed the event, urging Governor Cuomo to keep his promise by returning NYRA to a private, non-profit organization.

“You will hear that there at basically three options. A, to extend public control over horse racing, making New York state the only state in the union to do so; B, our state can keep its promise and re-establish NYRA or a type of NYRA as a type of non-profit; or C, the state could, in time, and perhaps not a very long time, sell Saratoga, and the other tracks, to private investors,” said Durkin.

A dozen speakers stood at the podium, talking about Saratoga Race Course’s importance to the city and its economy. Small business owners, backstretch workers, track employees, and horse owners were all represented at the event.

John Hendrickson, husband of Saratoga socialite Marylou Whitney, recently left his position on the NYRA board as a special advisor to Governor Cuomo in protest. He continued his assertion that VLT revenues to NYRA serve as a sort-of “mortgage payment” from the state, in exchange for the $1 billion worth of land underneath NYRA’s tracks at Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga.

Hendrickson said that until that money is paid off, the state has no right to touch it.

“When I resigned I didn’t want to become a martyr or a male version of Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games, but Marylou and I love Saratoga probably more than anything else in the world. And our loyalties are to this town and not to a politician in Albany,” said Hendrickson.

Just hours after the press conference, the state Assembly and Senate passed legislation introduced by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner and Senator Kathy Marchione to return NYRA to a private non-profit.

With NYRA’s re-privatization already delayed for a year, Concerned Citizens member and Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus urged the public to support the lawmakers’ plans.

“None of the options that would come into play if we kick it down the road are good for us. The best option is for us to make this happen this year so that we don’t have to have those threats looming over us,” said Shimkus.

Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi reiterated a previously released statement:

“Governor Cuomo and the Legislature saved NYRA from yet another bankruptcy in 2012 and installed a Board and management team that has brought success on every metric, while being accountable to the racing industry, taxpayers and host communities – including Saratoga Springs. The Governor will ensure the future of NYRA continues this trajectory of success.”

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