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Monday, August 29, 2005

Friends When You Need Them

- New York Governor George Pataki, who now earns the “lame duck” label after announcing that he won’t seek re-election next year, and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno have each named their three appointees to the so-called Committee on the Future of Racing, which will oversee the bidding for the New York racing franchise. For a panel with such a lofty name, you would think that the people selected would know more than just a little about the Thing whose Future is being determined.

"The horse racing industry is a critically important part of New York's economy -- generating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity. We are committed to doing everything possible to ensure that it remains strong and vibrant for years to come," Governor Pataki said. "I'm confident that this new committee and its members will fully explore and determine the best way to secure New York's racing industry and bring our racing franchise into the 21st century."

Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said, "The members of this committee are well-qualified to handle a big mission, to solicit bids and make recommendations on organizations interested in running the racing industry in New York State. With NYRA's franchise expiring, we have a unique opportunity to ensure the future strength of our horse racing industry that has a multi-billion impact on the state's economy and employs more than 35,000 people." [Governor Pataki Press Release]
Those “well-qualified” members of the Committee include J. Patrick Bennett, who began as an Assistant Treasurer for the Carrier International Corporation in 1964, working his way up until becoming its President in 1977. He oversaw the creation of the largest Employee Stock Ownership Program in the nation as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Avis, Inc.

There’s Fredric S. Newman (no relation to Alfred E.), a founding partner of the Hoguet Newman & Regal, LLP, a commercial litigation and employment law firm. We have John Nigro, President of Nigro Companies, an Albany-based real estate development and management firm. Edward P. Swyer is an entrepreneur who has founded and grown several successful companies, including Capital Bank & Trust, the Swyer Companies, a commercial real estate development company, and Selected Properties of the Northeast, a commercial real estate development and management firm.

But don’t worry, we do have a representative of the racing industry. It’s Jack Knowlton, the manager of Sackatoga Stable (and a resident of Bruno’s district), owners of the "legendary" New York-bred gelding Funny Cide.

Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver has yet to make his 3 appointments, but it seems pretty clear that they won’t include Andy Beyer or Nick Zito. It’s apparent that the very future of racing in this state will ultimately be determined by the three politicians - Pataki, for as long as he's still around, Bruno, and Silver - who decide virtually everything else that happens in this state, along with these people who have been appointed for reasons known only to the appointers, and it's obvious that the industry could really use some Friends of New York Racing.

Speaking of whom, Matt Hegarty in the Form wrote an interesting article last week, in which he matter of factly stated that [Friends of New York Racing] was formed to counter efforts by gambling companies to take over racing at the New York Racing Association's three tracks, Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga.

Oh. Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place? The presence of potential competing players for the New York franchise in the organization has always cast doubt as to their motives. But if you think of that way, it makes more sense. The Friends spent a lot of time and money doing economic surveys and issued a huge report in which they basically concluded that there should be slots at Belmont, thank you very much. I’ve been far more interested in the Political Action Group that they'd intended to establish in order to raise funds to support candidates friendly to the industry and to lobby the legislature effectively in order to make what they feel are necessary changes to the state’s racing law.
[Tim] Smith said that one of the goals of the racing law that will be supported by FNYR is to include as many provisions as possible to protect racing, such as minimum racing days and mandatory purse contributions.

"You have to have enough in the statute that would disincentivize a pure casino play," Smith said. [Daily Racing Form]
But Hegarty reports that the organization needs to have its funders ante up once again for an extension in order to merely be in existence long enough to lobby for a bill.
The group's board will meet in September to vote on the extension, Smith said after a town hall-type meeting at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion. Friends of New York Racing was initially given funding for a year to gather data on New York's racing industry and develop strategies and recommendations for how the racing law should be rewritten.
The extension would allow the group to use FNYR money to spearhead lobbying efforts on model legislation that is now being developed by the Albany Law School's Program on Racing and Wagering Law. A draft of the bill is expected to be released in September for public discussion and introduced at the beginning of the 2006 legislative session.

Smith, a former member of the Carter administration and the former chief executive of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said the group has not yet received formal commitments from its supporters to fund another year of operation.

"Anecdotally, informally, some of the people on the board who have advocated extending our life have indicated that they are willing to help pay additional funding, but the short answer is that it remains to be determined," Smith said. "The goal would be to stick around and get the legislation passed, which could take, in the best-case scenario, the next six months, but we could easily be here at this time next year, still working." [Daily Racing Form]
Looking at those members of that Committee, I think we should hope he's right about getting the extension, no matter what their motives really are. Jack Knowles seems like a nice guy, but to think that he’s the only person who knows anything about the sport representing our interests in the state government during this most critical moment is like thinking about sending a bumbling Governor of Texas to represent this country on the world stage.

The Committee also includes the Commissioner of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Bernadette Castro, who was recently seen sucking up to Donald Trump ("we celebrate his remarkable vision and success"), presenting him with some bullshit 2005 Master Builder Award. I mean, 2005 isn’t even 3/4's over, that’s like giving Afleet Alex an Eclipse award now.

If a casino company like Trump’s does get a hold of this franchise, we could be kissing goodbye to the game. It’s scary to think about the Don schmoozing those real estate moguls on the Committee on the Future of Racing. Running thoroughbred racing meetings is not presently a profitable venture; without the subsidies from slots, the sport would be on an endless downhill slide. Under a Trump Racing and Casino Association, one can see the importance of the sport declining on the corporate balance sheet as revenue-hungry legislators continue to turn to expanded gambling for help. Who knows, it may not be long before someone figures out a way to zap the horses down to miniatures small enough to race around an oval contained in a gaming table, and the Saratoga meeting could become a bunch of people hunkered over tables at Siro’s yelling ‘baby needs a new pair of shoes.’ We need our Friends to stick around.