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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Don't Expect Much From NYRA "Re-Privatization"

Gary Pretlow, the chairman of the Assembly Racing Committee, feels that NYRA is not "ready to go on their own" as of yet.

The warnings by Pretlow and the hesitation by his Senate committee counterpart to give a green light now to any of NYRA's still-developing plans signal some potential bumps for next year's scheduled end of state oversight of NYRA.
Though NYRA uses the term "re-privatization" to describe the scheduled end next fall of the state's control of its operations, Pretlow made clear he will oppose any effort that might arise to make NYRA a truly private corporation. 
"It remains a franchise under the state of New York and nothing else is really acceptable," Pretlow said. [Bloodhorse]
I think that last point is something that was conveniently overlooked when we heard talk about re-privatization meaning a New York Racing Association that was owned and operated by Churchill Downs or Frank Stronach.  The 2008 franchise agreement runs through 2033 and quite explicitly states that the New NYRA "is the not-for profit racing corporation incorporated pursuant to Section 402 of the Not-For-Profit Corporation Law of the State of New York."  So, it would require a lot of legislative effort, at the very least, to effect a change as drastic as NYRA becoming part of an out-of-state for-profit entity.  It's not going to happen.  I think that for all of the talk and speculation about the "re-privatization" of NYRA, it could be largely a non-event.

In fact, I think this whole state takeover thing just about qualifies as a non-event itself.  The fact is that NYRA was already under state control.  The Franchise Oversight Board was established in the franchise agreement to oversee the operations, and should NYRA not satisfy a list of Performance Standards that were written vaguely enough ("NYRA shall use its best reasonable efforts to maximize attendance..") to give it wide discretion, the FOB can threaten a revocation of the franchise. It was that threat which forced NYRA to reorganize its board to Cuomo's wishes in the first place.  And though we read about how the new board is "dominated by Cuomo appointees," it consists of largely familiar faces.  Nothing really drastic has occurred here.

Of course, that's not to say that things are not different than they might have been had the so-called takeover not transpired.  Surely, the old NYRA board would have gone in a different direction in choosing a new CEO, and he - or she (ha) - would have brought in a different executive team.
And while they would have faced the same issues - pressure to improve the financials separate from VLT money, the general decline in national handle, the future of Aqueduct (punted by this board), safety and medication issues, and a big wad of VLT cash with which to install much needed capital improvements - a different team may very well have taken a different approach.  Perhaps it would have focused on filling the void left by NYC OTB to fill its financial coffers instead of bleeding its customers for extra cash; or declined to be as hostile to the press and as non-transparent as this regime as proven to be.  (And a half hour session with customers at 10 AM on a Sunday morning at Aqueduct doesn't really change the latter.)

However, structurally and functionally as a corporation, I'd guess that things won't be all that much different when the three year period ends as it would have been if the governor hadn't been interested in staging his brief political show in reaction to the 2011-12 spate of breakdowns at Aqueduct and the takeout "scandal" which was portrayed as "robbing" bettors of millions of dollars.  The franchise agreement will remain in place, and NYRA will still be subject to the Franchise Oversight Board and the performance standards set forth.  It will almost be like nothing ever happened.

5 Comments:

Steve Zorn said...

There is one effect of the Cuomo takeover that rises above non-event status: the total clearing-out from the NYRA executive suite of anyone with knowledge of horse racing.

Anonymous said...

Make sure to share that with Martin Panza, Steve.

Figless said...

Not filling the NYC OTB void borders on negligence. One nice facility in each borough is long overdue.

Anonymous said...

It's more fun watching the decline of NY racing than it is to bet on their product.

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