[It appears that the governor is trying to maintain his control over the horse racing industry while syphoning off money to the state general fund rather than invest in maintaining horse racing]
John Hendrickson resigns as Cuomo’s racing advisor
Hendrickson file photo
By Paul Post, The Saratogian
Posted: 06/07/16, 4:43 PM EDT | Updated: 8 hrs ago
SARATOGA SPRINGS >> John Hendrickson has sent a loud, clear message to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whom he said hasn’t been listening lately – I quit.
Hendrickson, Marylou Whitney’s husband, resigned his post Tuesday – four days before the Belmont Stakes – as Cuomo’s special advisor on matters relating to Saratoga racing.
He has grown increasingly frustrated over Cuomo’s handling of New York Racing Association, which has been under state control since October 2012.
“I was appointed to help give a voice to Saratoga, but it’s clear the governor is not listening,” Hendrickson said. “Marylou and I are sorely disappointed. We hope the governor finds some newfound enlightenment soon.”
Instead of advising Cuomo, Hendrickson said his role turned out to be a “nightmarish job of Whack-a-Mole” as he constantly tried to stop Cuomo from doing things to hurt racing.
One of the latest episodes was the state’s approval, in an omnibus bill, of 1,000 new gaming machines at Aqueduct Racetrack to benefit Nassau Regional Off Track Betting.
The slot-like video lottery terminals will be located at Aqueduct’s casino, which generates revenue for racing. But none of Nassau OTB’s machines will benefit racing.
“We thank Mr. Hendrickson for his service and wish him well. The Governor and the Legislature saved NYRA from yet another bankruptcy in 2012 and installed a Board and management team that, by every metric, has been a success. We seek to continue this progress,” Gov. Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in a statement.
Former NYRA board member Charles Wait of Saratoga Springs said Hendrickson’s resignation is a “disaster for Saratoga, a disaster for racing and a disaster for the governor.”
Saratoga is losing an important voice, he said.
“This is the governor’s hand-picked advisor and he’s quitting because he can’t get anywhere,” Wait said. “I hope this gives the governor pause about the advice he’s getting or his own direction.”
Hendrickson and Whitney are highly respected in the world of thoroughbred racing and have done a great deal to improve the lives of Saratoga’s many backstretch workers. Hendrickson said he and Whitney plan to continue sponsoring their annual Backstretch Worker Appreciation Program, which provides daily activities during the 40-day meet, this summer.
But Hendrickson’s split from Cuomo is clear evidence of their disapproval with the governor’s racing policies.
In October 2012, Cuomo reorganized a 17-member NYRA board with 12 state appointees, and charged the group with returning the firm to private hands within three years.
But early last year, after NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay developed such plans, Cuomo instead extended state control of NYRA until this fall.
Most recently, it’s believed he favors a plan that would effectively keep a majority of state appointees on the board, while at the same time taking some of the money NYRA gets from Aqueduct’s casino and transferring it to the state general fund.
Under NYRA’s latest franchise agreement, the contract called for NYRA to get a share of gaming revenue in return for giving the land, worth $1 billion, at its three tracks – Saratoga, Belmont Park and Aqueduct – to the state.
Hendrickson said it’s now apparent that Cuomo wants to control the money generated by VLTs.
“Maybe this was his original course all along,” Wait said. “Racing is one of the greatest upstate industries there is. The governor says he’s open for business. This sends a message that he’s shutting upstate down.”
The group Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing is extremely upset at Cuomo, charging that taking money from NYRA will hurt Saratoga Race Course, one of the Capital Region’s most important economic engines. Maureen Lewi, the group’s chair, said Hendrickson’s resignation is a setback for Saratoga and racing.
“John is one of only a few notable figures that speak the truth, regardless of personal consequences, a virtuous asset in today’s society,” she said.
Only a few years ago, the best horses and stables in the country began moving to New York, attracted by the lure of higher purses resulting from gaming revenue at Aqueduct’s casino. Now, the reverse could happen if Cuomo takes money from NYRA, Wait said.
“I can’t imagine anybody investing in any business if they don’t have certainty about what the state is going to do,” Wait said. “It was his (Cuomo’s) word that he would privatize NYRA in three years. He has not lived up to his commitment.”
Last year, Wait resigned from the NYRA board when it became apparent that Cuomo’s plan was to continue state control over the firm.
Hendrickson’s departure leaves Georgeanna “Georgie” Lussier of Saratoga Springs as the lone local representative on NYRA’s board, a position she’s held since last September.
“I’m clearly upset,” she said. “I relied and depended on John’s input throughout this process. As long as I’m on the board I will represent his views and thoughts to the rest of the board.”
The board is not scheduled to meet again until August in Saratoga Springs.