[Governor Andrew Cuomo has never been a fan of horse racing.
There was an effort to expand casino gambling in New York about twenty some years ago. The campaign to block the expansion then was led and partially funded by the horse racing industry in general and by NYRA in particular. At the time in Saratoga Springs, in contrast to recent history, the Chamber of Commerce allied with NYRA in aggressively opposing casino expansion in New York.
One of the first things Governor Cuomo did as part of his recent successful campaign to expand casinos was to remove control of NYRA from its independent board and replace it with his own. Parenthetically, there had been serious mis-management at NYRA which the Governor shrewdly exploited.
The Governor has promised that the state will reap large sums of money from the new casinos being built. If anything, horse racing is a competitor for gambling revenue which one assumes he would prefer to go to the casinos.]
Cuomo’s racing plan blasted by horse owners, former board members
Gov. Andrew Cuomo FILE
By Paul Post, The Saratogian
Posted: 06/09/16, 5:05 PM EDT | Updated: 11 hrs ago
SARATOGA SPRINGS >> A prominent Saratoga horseman says New York Racing Association could be “held hostage” under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to reprivatize the firm that runs Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetrack.
Cuomo unveiled a proposal Wednesday that would cap the money NYRA gets from Aqueduct’s casino and require NYRA to each year ask the state for a $16 million capital spending appropriation.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Jack Knowlton, Sackatoga Stable managing partner. “You can’t depend on anything happening from one year to the next when the governor and Legislature are involved. He could hold NYRA hostage by saying, ‘OK here’s the money, but you’ve got to do X, Y or Z to get it. That’s undue influence.”
Cuomo’s plan differs greatly from bills in the senate and assembly that call for a 15-member NYRA board with two appointees by the governor and one each by the assembly and senate.
Cuomo wants six appointees on a 17-member board. Two of these would be recommended by the assembly and senate.
He also wants to name the board chairman, and the state Franchise Oversight Board that monitors NYRA’s financial issues would have expanded powers.
So while NYRA would be returned to private control, which Cuomo called for four years ago, the state is far from letting go.
Legislative leaders and the governor’s office are now left to reach some kind of compromise before the session ends next Thursday.
The most contentious issue is Cuomo’s attempt to wrest money away from NYRA that it gets from Aqueduct’s large casino.
In 2008, when NYRA was awarded a new 25-year franchise to run racing, the contract called for it to receive a set percentage of gaming revenue each year, with some going to operations, capital projects and purses. Cuomo now wants to cap this amount at $46 million per year, with anything over that going to fund education.
“Basically it’s changing the rules after they’ve been set,” Knowlton said.
On Tuesday, John Hendrickson resigned as Cuomo’s special racing advisor, citing frustrations with the governor’s policies that he said are hurting Saratoga and New York’s thoroughbred industry.
He was even more critical after reviewing Cuomo’s plan for NYRA, released a day later.
“It’s worse than I imagined,” Hendrickson said. “It’s the end of Saratoga as we know it. Purses will go down, admission prices will go up and giveaways will go away.”
His wife, Marylou Whitney, said, “I’ve spent most of my life trying to help Saratoga. I truly believe Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trying to hurt us. I’m confident his father (former Gov. Mario Cuomo) would not have condoned this action.”
Former NYRA board member Charles Wait of Saratoga Springs echoed similar sentiments.
In October 2012, Cuomo created a 17-member NYRA Reorganization Board with 12 state appointees, but charged the group with returning the firm to private control within three years.
“This is not what the governor promised,” Wait said. “Expanding control of NYRA’s budget, putting six people on the board and impounding money – that’s not privatization, it’s communism. It clarifies the reasons John Hendrickson left. The governor never was serious about keeping his word.”