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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Racino, Integrity Reviews Drag On

- March 16 has come and gone, but there's still no approval of the Aqueduct racino, despite that date having been reported to be a target date set by the state early this month. And though Charlie Hayward told Paul Post of the Saratogian last week that the talks were "very productive and very fruitful," they have obviously not been very conclusive. Spitzer has been able to resolve longstanding and contentious issues such as workers compensation, but he may have met his match in New York racing, and the powerful land claim issue which Charlie Hayward and NYRA hold over this whole process. NYRA also has their lawsuit against the Pataki Administration's stonewalling of racino approval, an accusation that seems credible to me, and one that this corner is anxious to see play out in court (if only because it will make for a lot of good subject matter). But I wonder if the inability of NYRA and a far more willing, if not anxious, partner in Spitzer to reach an agreement is detrimental to that case?

The latest timetable on the new and not-so-improved franchise process is that the bidders will present plans to a state panel on April 10 and 11, and Governor Eliot Spitzer will name a track operator by June 1; this as reported by Paul Post, who has recently been providing the most timely coverage of the situation. Are we to assume that comprehensive new laws and a determination of the fate of the OTB's will be concluded by then too? It seems laughable to think that those issues will be resolved in 2 1/2 months. The governor's office also announced the "integrity reviews" of each principal.

[Spitzer spokesperson Paul] Larrabee said the inspector general will review each entity and its principals, but it's unclear exactly who that includes. New York Yankees general partner Steve Swindal, hotel-casino-developer Richard Fields and global real estate owner Tishman Speyer are Excelsior Racing's principals.

In contrast, NYRA and Empire both have chief executive officers and full boards of 15 to 25 members each. It's unclear yet if all board members will be subject to integrity reviews.

Reviews might include data searches, interviews and examinations of each person's records and backgrounds.
This is threatening to become Integrity Gone Wild, starring a governor who I imagine has devised this process at least in part to once again emphasize his own virtue. But I don't know if it's an essential use of my tax money to pay for a credit check of Frank Stronach or to have Steve Wynn piss in a cup. We know these guys (and come to think of it, is there a single female player in this whole affair?), and none of them...well, most of them don't have police records, and do we really care if, say, one principal's dead grandfather may have loaned money to reputed mobsters?

The integrity issues that I believe are important are the ones that may never get raised. Are we to expect a Spitzer-appointed board to grill Excelsior's Richard Fields about his cash and in-kind contributions to the governor's campaign? Will the majority Senate Republicans demand that Empire explain the motives of Jared Abbruzzese in his business dealings with Senator Bruno while the former was a director of Empire? Will anyone demand an explanation of the circumstances by which many principals of a group that raised money while billing themselves as non-partisan and issued a final report recommending a for-profit model, then became part of an actual bidder employing that very strategy as the basis for their proposal? If the very existence of Empire is based on deceit, isn't that more relevant that the minutiae of the individuals' backgrounds?

Freed by Spitzer's new procedure to define itself on its own terms, NYRA is playing the PR game, putting maximum spin on the departure of Bill Nader to the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
“Thoroughbred Racing is a global industry, and it is no surprise that when the HKJC searched the globe for top racing talent, their search led them to NYRA. NYRA’s record of integrity and expertise in racing is simply unmatched.” [NYRA]
Nice one. But it may (or may not) be worth noting this: Nader is the second high-ranking official to depart NYRA recently. Senior Vice President for Customer Service Kathy Marino is leaving, too, prompting speculation NYRA's days might be numbered. [The Saratogian]

1 Comment:

Green Mtn Punter said...

With the departure of Bill Nader for Hong Kong, NYRA's case for seasoned race track management would seem to be weakened, as is it's attraction as a management team to be picked up by Excelsior or Steve Wynn. Now it's wait till April 10 and 11 for the next dog and pony show. And all of this played out against NYRA's land claim and lawsuit against Pataki Admin officials. Picking a winner is about as easy as picking the winner in a 14 horse field of maiden claimers, and by now I am more confused than ever. I just hope that Rome doesn't burn while Nero fiddles away.