Gov. Andrew Cuomo says a new, temporary board set to run the New York Racing Association will enhance racing while working closely with New York's expansion of gambling.
Cuomo and legislative leaders announced the management change Tuesday amid the latest conflict to hit the private entity that's run thoroughbred racing at the Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct tracks since 1955.
“We have to work to restore the public trust,” Cuomo said. “There have been a series of episodes.”
Cuomo convinced members of the independent board that oversees horse racing in New York to agree to the restructuring that will give the governor the majority of appointees on new board.
The new board will include seven Cuomo appointees, five from NYRA, and two each from the Senate's Republican majority and the Assembly's Democratic majority.
It's the actual membership of the board, however, that concerns Eric Mitchell. He's the editor and chief of bloodhorse.com, a trade publication supported by the National Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. He said political appointees are chosen for a variety of reasons and not always because they are an expert in what the given board is responsible for overseeing. "You would prefer to see people in positions that understand the sport, understand racing, understand what needs to be done to grow it," he explained.
He understands the need for the restructuring, but also stresses that it should be temporary.
Cuomo said he will relinquish control of the NYRA board in three years. During the time he controls the board, though, the governor wants a closer look at allegations of trainers and owners using drugs to boost horse’s racing performances, sometimes resulting in the horses’ death.
The restructuring comes as the Cuomo administration is investigating NYRA over $8.5 million in winnings that wasn't paid out to bettors and the third leg of the Triple Crown is coming up at Belmont. NYRA's top two officers have been fired. After this latest controversy, Cuomo’s aides ordered the state Lottery Division to withhold slot machine payments earned at Aqueduct race track, worth about $3 million dollars a month, starving the financially shaky NYRA from a vital source of revenue.
NYRA Board member Charles Wait, who represented the board at the announcement, was full of praise for the governor and his actions. “The New York Racing Association supports this legislation wholeheartedly,” he said.
Jerry Kremer, a political strategist and a former state Assemblyman for 23 years, also applauded Cuomo's move, saying it was an historic experiment. "No time in the last 25 – 35 years has the state ever taken over a non profit group that was given the responsibility of carrying out other state functions.”
He added that appointees will make all the difference.
“I think it’s the quality of the people who get involved, their ability to want to oversee racing and to see that it improves, “ Kremer said. “So we’re doing to have to keep under a magnifying glass to make sure it works.
The changes means the governor will gain control over NYRA during a time he plans to remake the gaming industry in New York State. Cuomo is seeking a constitutional amendment to allow up to seven new non-Indian gambling casinos in the state, and has proposed an enormous convention center and gambling parlor at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens.
“The gaming world is changing,” Cuomo said. He hopes to create an economic “synergy” between horse racing and other forms of gambling.
Legislative leaders said they intend to pass the bills to restructure NYRA as soon as the governor has them ready.
Brigid Bergin contributed reporting.