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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Franchise Flurry

- Amidst a flurry of activity, including Jeff Perlee's double-edged missive to the state oversight board, and perhaps the first indication that there are indeed live human beings at the Lottery Division, NYRA has made an appeal to the members of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA) for support in their efforts to get approval for the Aqueduct casino. In a letter mailed directly to NYTHA members, NYRA points out that the slots will generate over $200,000 daily to purses and breeders awards. "Purses at Saratoga, for example, should have been $900,000 a day."

The letter recounts NYRA's failed effort to elicit the support of the NYTHA board in an August 24 meeting with the horsemen and a Sept 1 meeting with the board. The first effort resulted in a poisonous press release that came out the next day through, according to NYRA, Empire's PR firm. In that release, a copy of which is also enclosed in the mailing, NYTHA president Richard Bronze accused NYRA of holding a "fire sale of New York racing assets."

"The VLT program was enacted by the state Legislature and the Governor to help the horse industry, not as a giveaway program to be divided up among Las Vegas casino companies or Indian gaming operators."
But as if to acknowledge its own hypocrisy, the release also admits that "racing operators" have since joined the Empire coalition, mentioning Woodbine and Churchill, but not Magna nor the huge conglomerate Delaware North. Those investments are said to be limited to 6%.

The package also includes NYRA's response to that release, as well as a September 1 letter to Governor Pataki in which Charles Hayward disputes the notion that approval of the casino would negatively effect the franchise selection process.
By statute, NYRA's management agreement with MGM will transfer to, and be binding upon, any successor to NYRA. Moreover, the Ad Hoc Committee's own RFP instructed bidders that any successor to NYRA will be required to assume the terms and conditions of the existing management agreement between NYRA and MGM.
Hayward goes on to point out that further delays will threaten its agreement with the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation to establish a schedule to pay off its pension obligations, which would in turn, according to Hayward, "only further frustrate and delay this vital project." NYTHA members are asked to sign a letter of support and return it to NYRA in a self-addressed, stamped envelope (and I wonder if they received approval from the oversight board for that expense).

Perlee's letter to the oversight board urges the release of the remaining $19 million to keep NYRA operating, independently of the Lottery Divison's approval of the VLT project. But at the same time, it tweaks NYRA for its financial problems, twisting the association's characterization of its Saratoga meeting as an "unparalled success" in an attempt at irony. He also urges further review of the MGM contract, which was granted without a proper bidding process, asking the state to compare it to existing racino agreements. Empire is clearly concerned about the prospect of a NYRA bankruptcy filing, perhaps because it could lead to an unwanted court ruling on the issue of who owns the land that the tracks reside on. Perlee's letter prompted this response from Hayward, questioning why Perlee would seek to add a further delay to approval.

Meanwhile, the Lottery Division speaks (!), releasing a statement disputing NYRA's contention that the final draft of its agreement was provided to the division four months ago.[Daily Racing Form] They claim that the latest revision to the agreement was not received until the second week of August.