- Just as horsemen and NYRA employees started to prepare for the worst, Matt Hegarty in the Form and Tom Precious on Bloodhorse.com are reporting that a settlement is within reach. According to the reports, the staffs of Spitzer, Bruno, and Silver are meeting on Wednesday night to discuss the proposal. The franchise term would be 25 years, with reviews every four years that would include benchmarks to be met. The board would consist of 21 people; NYRA would have 11 appointees, with the rest split amongst the governor (three), and two each for the Senate and the Assembly. Spitzer would appoint an additional three based on "recommendations from horsemen, breeders, and labor." How about the horseplayers?
According to several officials involved in the negotiations, a bill has already been prepared that addresses some aspects of a long-term extension. The 178-page bill, however, does not include details on the length of the franchise or the composition of the board, the officials said.Slots at Belmont are not addressed, nor are NYC OTB or the OTB issue in general. A legislative source suggested those issues could be resolved later in the legislative session, but that it’s important to strike a deal involving the racing side of the franchise. [Bloodhorse] Hopefully, the looming threat of NYC OTB's closure will make "later in the legislative session" mean later in this legislative session. Or decade for that matter. Since few in Albany are going to care one bit about racing once slots revenue starts to flow (as if they do now), the looming June deadline to shut the city OTB will hopefully inspire some constructive action.
"If you can fill in those two blanks, then it could go to the legislature to be voted on the same day," one of the officials said. Officials of Spitzer's administration and Silver's staff have reviewed the bill, the officials said. [DRF]
In addition, Steve Duncker would have to step down after four years, and Spitzer gets control of the Oversight Board.
One negotiator urged caution about reporting a tentative deal and suggested legislators, especially Bruno, want to portray talks as closer than they actually are at this point. Bruno has come under mounting pressure from some community leaders to strike a deal; a prominent Saratoga Springs, N.Y., banker, Charles Wait, recently said Senate Republicans were at fault for the unresolved franchise matter. [Bloodhorse.com]Bruno has been trying all along to make it seem as if a settlement was imminent. Remember when, back before the New Year, he said on a Capital OTB cable show: “Practically speaking, it’s a done deal? Bruno has tried with little success to dispel the notion that he would be the one responsible for a stoppage. But if there is indeed an agreement, then the pressure obviously shifts to NYRA. The terms described seem like a reasonable compromise, with both sides conceding points on the board - Bruno gets his appointees, but NYRA maintains a majority. The reduction to 25 years seems kinda irrelevant to me at this point in time. And fair and impartial reviews with reasonable benchmarks seems within reason.
NYRA will certainly be expected to accept such a proposal. However, I imagine that its lawyers are going to take an extremely close look at the benchmarks, which involve such things as attendance, fiscal performance, and backstretch conditions; failure to meet the benchmarks could result in revocation of the franchise. I'd think that NYRA would be quite concerned over the possibility of having its franchise revoked for, say, lax attendance at Aqueduct or Belmont at a point in time when live crowds are not necessarily the point (especially when and if OTB is consolidated).
Should there be a stoppage, it would be a long and weird two dark days before Wednesday, Feb 13, which would be the last day. What would happen afterwards is this:
In addition, NYRA plans to close the backstretches at Aqueduct and Belmont beginning on Feb. 21 unless "a collective decision is reached by horsemen to fund the direct costs of track maintenance and backstretch operation." In addition, all horses and backstretch workers will be required to vacate barns and dormitories on Feb. 27, NYRA said. [DRF]