by Karen Johnson
Charlie Hayward, the president and chief executive officer of the New York Racing Association, spoke about NYRA’s ongoing franchise issues during a June 23 press conference in Albany, N.Y., previewing the upcoming Saratoga Race Course meet.
“I hope next year by this time there won’t be any discussion about the franchise, but I did want to give you an update because it is still not a done deal, and obviously that is something that is very important,” Hayward told the media at the Desmond Hotel.
The franchise legislation bill was passed in February, giving NYRA a new 25-year franchise. As part of the agreement, NYRA relinquished to the state the titles to the land that Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga occupy.
“There are four things left for us to do,” Hayward said. “Actually, there is a technical amendment bill that is amending the franchise bill that was passed in February. It is exactly what it says; it is technical. From NYRA’s perspective one thing that is really important is that it spells out specifically the splits on the VLTS for the vendor, NYRA, the breeders, and the horsemen.
“The complication here, and there are always complications, as we know. There has been a bill introduced by the Assembly (June 19) and a bill introduced by the Senate. Both of those bills got things done that we needed done in terms of the franchise. There are some difference in opinion between the Assembly and Senate bill, but we are highly confident today when they close the session, they will be able to work that out.”
Hayward said there are three other steps to finalize the franchise: The drafting of a settlement agreement on the land; a franchise agreement which takes the legislative terms of the franchise and turns it into a contract; and lease agreements with the counties where Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course are located.
NYRA’s franchise has been extended until July 13 by the state. A U.S. bankruptcy judge approved NYRA’s reorganizational plan to emerge from bankruptcy April 28, with a deadline of June 30 for NYRA to become free of the court’s protection.
“We are trying very hard to get all of this documentation done, and move forward by June 30,” Hayward said. “If we can’t do that, we really need to get things done by July 13. I don’t want to be inflammatory, but I must tell you, we have pretty much be running on fumes from a financial perspective. We need the money that will be released to NYRA as a result of the bankruptcy. We’ll get the money to be able to pay off all our unsecured lenders, or creditors if you will, and we will also get $30 million. That is what NYRA needs to keep running until the VLTs get operating. “
Hayward said he was hopeful that VLTs at Aqueduct would be in operation in 2009. The state still needs to select a VLT operator.