When I first read, as first reported last week by David Grening in the Daily Racing Form, that the NYRA Reorganization Board was going to select Christopher Kay to be the new CEO, I reacted with the same measure of puzzlement and trepidation as most everyone else. Puzzlement over the fact that they would hire somebody with no experience in racetrack management; fear over his experience in corporate privatization and land management, and how those elements could be applied here in a worst-case scenario of a governor hostile to the industry.
However, after reading the comments by members of the board, it makes a lot more sense. Now, a highly suspicious person might be skeptical of what he/she might see as a press release of canned comments by members of a board that was appointed by Cuomo and legislative leaders. But I think we've seen that this is a living, breathing board consisting mostly of people with racing experience and a highly vested interest in a successful racing industry in the state. So, when I hear people like Charlie Wait and Stuart Janney III and even Bobby Flay, who may have said some wacky things but has the best interests of the game at heart, I believe we can take comfort that the appointment is well-intended.
It's an odd mixture of experience that Mr. Kay brings to his new job; from COO of a giant Fortune 200 company (Toys R Us) to Managing Director at Universal Parks and Resorts, to COO at a land conservation organization (Trust for Public Land) - and he definitely gets tree-hugging brownie points from this corner for the latter. (If I ever get a chance to chat with him, I'd be as interested in his impressions of the proposed Queensway project, which Trust for Public Land studied under his watch, as anything else; as that High Line-style elevated rail line park project would be right around here in Queens and is near and dear to our hearts). And I suppose it's that kind of diverse experience, along with the fact that he is an attorney, that made him attractive to the search firm that helped select him, and to the board which approved his hire without debate. As Chairman David Skorton pointed out:
"..Basically he is a very strong manager and leader from different types of organizations – for profit, not-for-profit, [he’s worked in] organizations that had to deal in the governmental sector. We wanted someone who is experienced in making that connection, in the public-private partnership as opposed to the public-private war, and I think we’re going to go in the right direction. [NY Daily News]As far as the possible conspiracy theories go, Kay helped take Toys R Us private during his time there, and I read the word "privatization" mentioned with skepticism in some Twitter reporting yesterday. But NYRA is indeed set to privatize in two years in the sense that the three-year term of state control will expire; and I don't believe there's anything more insidious there than that. One might be more concerned about his experience in land management and conservation. But NYRA no longer owns the land the tracks sit on; the state does.
Then again, NYRA no longer owns the land the tracks sit on; the state does. And who knows exactly what that would entitle the governor to do with the land if he really wanted. So, if one believed that Kay is a plant from the governor's office (and it was the Cuomo administration that awarded Trust for Public Land a $467,000 grant to study Queensway, so there is a history of past contact there), then that person would surely be concerned. But I don't think there's anything there to be concerned with, really, other than the possible, if not likely, demise of Aqueduct, which is not a new development. The governor has quickly lost interest in the subject of racing, and I think he's quite content to let the industry generate revenue and keep a whole lot of people employed.
So, Christopher Kay will no doubt need to brush up on the subject, as running Saratoga is a long ways from visiting Cahokia Downs as a kid and representing horse owners as an attorney. No doubt he will consider bringing in an experienced racetrack guy to help. But he seems like a smart guy who will listen to the experienced voices in the team that he assembles and already has in place at NYRA, and sounds genuinely enthusiastic about the opportunity. So, we will wait and see, and hope that he's the right guy.
- Some details trickling out at this writing about the casino bill agreed to by the governor and legislative leaders behind closed doors late Tuesday night. Here's the bill itself if you want to ascertain them yourselves. Four casinos upstate, no VLT's in the outer boroughs should the referendum fail, some relief for upstate racinos impacted by the recent agreements with the Indian tribes. And apparently, Dean Skelos has won a VLT parlor for the Nassau/Suffolk border (and we can thank the IDC for the sniveling Skelos even being in the room for the minority GOP). More on this later as the details become clear (as in, after other people with more time on their hands read the bill and tell us exactly what it says).