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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Empire Strikes SPAC

- Empire Racing submitted their revised plan, and it's one which represents a bizarre turn for the troubled company. It proposes a joint non-profit effort amongst all four bidders modeled after the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). A press release issued on Tuesday explained:

SPAC, like the racing franchise, was plagued by mismanagement and near financial collapse before the restructuring. This new racing association would be led by a board of trustees consisting of representatives of government, the horsemen community, OTB corporations and other community stakeholders. The association would contract out day-to-day racing management to a qualified, business-oriented operator with proven success in racetrack/VLT management.

“Empire Racing has advocated a coalition approach since the very beginning of this process. We expand on that today by proposing a cooperative, inclusive approach that is capable of being passed in Albany ...” said Jeff Perlee, Empire Racing CEO.
Well, at least we know one thing: If this doesn't work out for Jeff Perlee, he at least has some promise as a stand-up comedian. To state that Empire has "advocated a coalition approach since the very beginning" is typical of the laughably cynical and hypocritical claims and remarks we've heard from the group throughout this process.

It was Empire who lowered the bar with its relentless attacks on NYRA, starting with the ill-conceived press release which attempted to portray last year's Saratoga meeting as a failure. “This thing has been a mess for years and is just getting worse. 2007 can’t come fast enough,” Perlee said in a subsequent release. When Excelsior was selected by the Ad Hoc Committee, Empire reacted with a coordinated attack, calling the group a "dog track operator" even as its own partner Delaware North actually did operate greyhound tracks. Perlee appealed to the Committee to disqualify Excelsior for unregistered lobbying even as Jared Abbruzzese was being investigated for flying Joe Bruno around in planes. Why, just a few weeks ago, Empire again called for Excelsior's ouster, this time for colluding with NYRA. And even in this very press release calling for cooperation, they still managed to get their digs in about NYRA's 'mismanagement.' Does this all sound like a "coalition approach?"

Contrary to an earlier report, an Excelsior spokesperson told Matt Hegarty that they have indeed revised their bid, and that it that would differ significantly from its previous for-profit bid. Capital Play announced the addition of the Victorian Racing Club to their team, and reiterated the vast sums of money they are offering to invest in a lengthy press release that you can read here. The bids are supposed to be posted on the NYS Racing and Wagering site at some point.

Richard Rifkin told a panel at the Albany Law School symposium: “The governor’s goal is to come out with a result where racing is going to be a major and successful industry in this state." It would be nice to hear that from the governor himself for a change. It was nice to hear that Rifkin acknowledged the critical nature of the OTB problem; if the governor really meant what Rifkin said he did, that's what he'd be talking about instead of closing the Big A.


Jim L said...


I thought you would have been all over this.........

Anonymous said...

Let's hope that this is the last we hear of Empire Racing. What a disaster, from start to finish, R.I.P. /S/Green Mtn Punter

lawboy said...

I attended the Saratoga Institute CLE where Rifkin made his comments. It was a horrible speech. We're told in August that the "Governor has no plan" for the franchise which expires at the end of year. It was a ramble on Rifkin's part leading most to believe that NYRA wins by default. It also had the gratuitous swipes at OTBs. And the usual “nothing will change at Saratoga.” NYRA got some bad news in the form of the presentation by Frank Mauro who gave a pretty strong presentation on the history of franchise process in the 1980's. He made a very strong case that NYRA doesn't own the land, but no mention in any of the media accounts I've seen.
Stephen Crist was entertaining, but his message was his typical NYRA uber all. Jack Knowlton gave a good concise overview of the ad-hoc committee he served on, which made that process look wonderful when compared to the Governor’s “no plan” plan.

The undercurrent of the day had to do with the sole-source no-bid multi-million dollar contract NYRA is trying to give to its former federal monitor Getnick & Getnick. Their proposed fee of $125,000 a month was mentioned by many people including one of the later panelist. Many also question the ethics of the former federal monitor now working for NYRA. Makes his 2005 report and the state Inspector General’s “integrity” review look tainted. Dino Ameroso (sp?) from Nassau OTB hijacked his panel to go on a 15 minute rant against NYRA and other race track operators who use OTBs as their scapegoat for all that is wrong with racing in NYS. He compared NYRA to the OTBs: (paraphrasing here) “We haven’t needed $200 million in bailouts, we haven’t had deferred prosecutions, we haven’t declared bankruptcy, we don’t need to pay $125,000 a month for someone to come in and do our integrity work for us… “at the same time, everyone is asking the legislators to give more VLT money to tracks that made bad business decisions like locating next to an Indian casino (Vernon downs) .

Racing and Wagering Commissioner Mike Hoblock who asked if VLTs were helping or hurting racetracks moderated one of the best panels of the day. Jeff Gural said he could generate more money for education if the track share of VLTs is increased. Assemblyman Gary Pretlow who has said he will pass the legislation to increase the track share went out of his way to say that he thinks it is a bad bill designed to bailout Gural from a bad business decision.

All-in-all Ben Leibman of the Albany Law School put on a great program. Unfortunately the coverage by the local media was poor.