The New York Racing Association's future is murky, and no one from NYRA's management wanted to help clear things up on Tuesday, several dozen gaming lawyers learned.
The non-profit that runs the state's three public thoroughbred tracks was unwilling to send someone to attend the 2014 Saratoga Institute on Racing & Gaming Law discussion on NYRA.
"This institution submitted numerous invitations to the CEO of NYRA to be on this panel," panel leader Chris Wittstruck told about 100 lawyers, lobbyists and gaming industry officials at the forum. He said he couldn't get a response and NYRA CEO Christopher Kay's office did not offer a substitute. "I think it's regrettable," he said.
Wittstruck, a lawyer and director for the standardbred owners association, said he was unable to even get a voting director of the NYRA board for the talk at the annual institute, which always has a session dedicated to NYRA. He did secure Richard Violette, president of the state thoroughbred owners association, a non-voting NYRA director.
At a NYRA board meeting last week, Kay suggested that he is extremely busy trying to prepare a plan for the transition of NYRA from its current, three-year formation as a publicly controlled body, presumably to a privately controlled entity. He revealed that he hopes to put a plan together by the end of this year. The plan is technically due around April 22, 180 days before the end of the reorganization board.
The same NYRA discussion panel included Patrick M. Connors, chairman of the state Racing Fan Advisory Council, which issued a highly critical report on July 2 about NYRA's handling of the June 7 Belmont Stakes event in Nassau County.
The council report said NYRA let fans down with poor service and potentially dangerous security and safety lapses.
Connors said despite wide publicity about the council's findings and recommendations after release of the report, Kay did not reach out to him until about a week ago to set up a conversation about the issues raised.
Connors said NYRA board members should sit in various parts of the facility and take public transportation to the Belmont Stakes to better assess the fan experience.
NYRA spokesman John Durso would not say why Kay and other administrators did not attend the meeting, but said a presentation to the NYRA board is expected later this year. "It would be premature to speculate on recommendations that are not yet complete," he said.
Violette said he is concerned about rumors that Aqueduct Race Track will be closed and winter racing would be moved to nearby Belmont Park. He said that could require a $1 billion overhaul of Belmont. He said Belmont could not be retrofitted. He said such a consolidation would require scraping off the current facilities and starting all new, but could only be successful if the money is made available, theoretically from whatever entity that purchased the Aqueduct acreage from the state. "If we're not going to get the money, why move?" he said.
The panels discussed casino issues, including the impact of the spread of gambling on existing gaming businesses.
John Signor, president of Capital District Off-Track Betting Corp., said his network would likely suffer substantially if a casino opens in the Capital Region that isn't at Rensselaer. His OTB is partnering with the team proposing a casino along the Hudson River in Rensselaer, which is planned to be a Hard Rock casino, hotel and restaurant licensee.
He complains that gaming law protects racing purses and existing "entertainment" venues from a new casinos, but not OTBs that employ hundreds of people and provide revenues with several municipalities.
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Reprinted with permission of the TimesUnion.com website