Lambastes is the word that the Times Union's Capitol Confidential uses to describe the figurative tongue-lashing delivered to NYRA in a letter to Charles Hayward from State Budget Director (and chairman of the Franchise Oversight Board) Robert Megna, issued after a contentious meeting of the Board during which NYRA officials (though apparently not including Hayward himself) were not as forthcoming as he'd like. You could also use words like excoriates, berates, pummels, rebukes, reads the riot act to, eviscerates, drags over the coals, flays, or whatever. Let's just say that Mr. Megna is not happy.
Our oversight ability depends on your willingness to be forthright with information......Unfortunately, there remain significant and unacceptable gaps in our ability to analyze the NYRA budget. Specifically, state law grants the FOB the authority to review management and employee compensation plans, but your budget provides no detail on the compensation of senior management. However, it has been widely reported that raises have been granted to NYRA senior executives, as well as other employees. In fact, wage compensation at NYRA is projected to increase by more than 5 percent in total. Given current fiscal realities, and with NYRA projecting an $11 million deficit, the Board believes that your actions in this area warrant justification.Megna additionally reminds NYRA that "a finding of a material breach, or repeated non-material breach of performance standards" could be grounds for the Franchise Oversight Board to recommend terminating the franchise. Pretty harsh stuff.
I continue to have substantial concerns about NYRA’s ability to bring racing operations into the black. Your budget assumes that overall handle on NYRA races will drop by 1.4 percent, while total operating expenses will increase by 7.9 percent. Even with VLT revenue beginning to flow, it is not clear after extrapolating current trends that racing operations are sustainable without significant restructuring. As Chairman of the Oversight Board, I am asking that NYRA submit a plan to bring racing operations into long-term solvency.
Well, I can't really comment on the financial assumptions at the crux of the letter, though it was reported that NYRA officials indeed refused to divulge salary figures at the meeting. And NYRA has yet to respond with the report having been issued late in the day. But you know where I stand on NYRA. Part of it is a natural bias after....many joyful, if not profitable, years of attending its races (I'm done specifying the number of years, look at some old posts and do the math if you care). But aside from that, I just happen to think that NYRA is run by thoroughly honest folks who have the best interests of the game squarely at heart. Not to say that they don't make mistakes, but I don't believe they stem from deception or malice of any kind.
So, having said and acknowledged that, just a few comments. For one thing, I tend to give NYRA the benefit of the doubt when it's attacked by a politician. However, Megna holds an appointed position, so unless he's gearing up for a future run for Comptroller, he's apparently not being motivated by the usual promise of cheap political gain. He seems genuinely and thoroughly pissed off about something! Still, the most venal offense that Megna could come up with is a lousy 5% increase in the wages it pays its employees? Really gotta wonder what all the bluster is about. While I can't say for sure without seeing specific figures (wages are not broken out on some old financials I have), I would also wonder just how material an increase of that level could possibly be.
Additionally, though Megna expresses concern about NYRA's finances, he doesn't mention the effect of the closure of NYC OTB which was ultimately a result of the state's failure to resolve the issues. Nor does he acknowledge the aggressive efforts by NYRA to attract more business to its track and its online wagering platform. Whatsmore, given the past performances, my guess is that NYRA's response will go towards highlighting the lack of familiarity and knowledge of the details by elected (or, in this case, appointed) officials. And that if Hayward "chose to not attend today’s meeting" even though it "was rescheduled at [his] request to accommodate the NYRA racing calendar," then he had a pretty good reason, be it personal or merely posturing. One would surely expect that there would be an adversarial element in the relationship between NYRA and a board created by politicians to oversee it. But this sounds like it's already turned personal.
- Genting was also represented at the FOB meeting, and they told the Board that the racino might not be ready until October, rather than the long-promised late summer soft opening of 2,500 machines.
Workers have spent longer than expected on things such as roofing and asbestos abatement at Aqueduct, Genting Chief Financial Officer Christian Goode said.Well, that's no surprise here; I've been skeptical about that target date from the start. I mean, it just seemed obvious from the naked eye, seeing the state of the construction there in late April, when the meet ended. It rarely pays to be so overly optimistic; just raises questions and criticism. One of the biggest mistakes that the Obama Administration has made was saying that unemployment was going to drop to 7.9% by last year. Makes it so easy for opponents to frame the economy as a failure on the part of the White House. The NYRA situation is surely less profound, but you still have to wonder if Genting is setting itself up for more questioning by even mentioning October 1. Indeed, Resorts World President Michael Speller declined to identify a definite date.
“There are a lot of challenges with an old building,” he said. [The Saratogian]