by Tom Precious
Negotiators trying to reach a deal on a new Thoroughbred franchise in New York are still at an impasse, and now the talks have turned to approving another extension to permit the New York Racing Association to temporarily continue running racing.
Officials involved in the talks said the sides are discussing a short-term extension, "several weeks," as well as an option that would keep NYRA as the temporary operator until the end of March.
If that happens, it means the franchise talks will be rolled into the broader and even more contentious negotiations over a new state budget. Such a course could make for easier deal-trading involving the franchise and other, unrelated matters. But it could also prove dangerous if, as some in Albany fear, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and lawmakers are unable to reach a budget deal before the fiscal year starts April 1 and the franchise gets spun into disputes involving health care, education, and other spending priorities.
Officials with the New York Off-Track Betting Corporation were also on the scene at the Capitol Jan. 18, one day after the release of an internal report that sets the stage for the shut-down of the OTB June 16. OTB officials say a variety of state-imposed conditions are making the entity a money-loser. The OTB wants its concerns addressed in the franchise discussions, leading some negotiators to theorize the talks could lead some sort of new model to end the decades of fractured relations between the OTB and NYRA.
NYRA’s franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga racetracks expired Dec. 31. The state, through panel called the Non-Profit Racing Association Oversight Board, has taken control of racing. It then designated NYRA to temporarily continue the actual operation of the tracks while talks at the Capitol continued.
But the temporary extension expires Jan. 23. If not renewed and if a broader deal is not reached by then, racing would halt. There have been few substantive discussions since Jan. 1.
Steven Newman, chairman of the state oversight board, said Jan.18 that another extension is thought about and talked about.
But he said he is optimistic the sides can still reach a broader franchise deal. Asked if racing could shut down Jan. 23, he said, "Clearly, there is no extension at this moment, but there’s five days between now and Jan. 23.
"I hope people can work through it," he said.
Asked to comment on word from sources that the GOP-led Senate has floated a temporary extension to last anywhere from the end of March to sometime in June, he said, "I would rather not comment at the moment."
The sides still are apart on a number of key issues, including whether, as the Senate GOP wants, a VLT casino at Belmont. Also, the Senate has raised concerns about Spitzer’s plan to give NYRA a 30-year extension and they are still discussing how much new oversight will be given to the next franchise holder.