By James Odato
ALBANY — The state expects to take possession of deeds to Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct racetracks today, a momentous turn in the often stormy relationship with the New York Racing Association.
The private corporation has controlled the vaunted thoroughbred properties since 1955.
The deed turnover would happen following approval of the certificate of incorporation of a newly constituted NYRA, which is expected to emerge from nearly two years in bankruptcy court today.
"It’s a good step," said Morgan Hook, spokesman for Gov. David Paterson. "It’s going to help ensure New York state has the best thoroughbred racing in the country, if not the world. It benefits thousands of people in addition to the businesses surrounding these tracks."
The state intends to give the association $105 million — $30 million for working capital and $75 million for creditors. The money will come from bonds issued by the state’s Urban Development Corp.
Joseph Mahoney, a spokesman for the Racing & Wagering Board, said if the board’s vote affirms the certificate of incorporation, the state will begin a new era of oversight as well. The governor and Racing Board Chairman John Sabini are committed to seeing NYRA perform for the state under a new 25-year franchise deal, Mahoney said.
"For too many years NYRA was allowed to pretty much do its own thing," he said. "Things are going to be a lot different. … We will be paying very, very close attention to the reborn NYRA."
NYRA will have to shrink its board size modestly and add a few more government appointees. The new configuration will include 11 appointees of the governor and Legislature and 14 privately appointed by NYRA.
NYRA officials were not giving interviews Thursday, but planned a news conference today.
The association’s recent history was marked by successive legal and political salvos by attorneys general, comptrollers and lawmakers for losing money, overpaying executives and incurring lavish expenses. It was forced to shape up or face prosecution after a federal indictment in 2003 named NYRA as an accomplice in a tax evasion scheme perpetrated by a number of betting clerks.
The state will be taking deeds for hundreds of acres of track land worth hundreds of millions of dollars in Saratoga County, Queens and Nassau County. It will also assume responsibility for property taxes.
Paterson is mulling a decision on naming an operator for a large video lottery terminal facility for Aqueduct. Hook said he may be weeks away. The revenues from the VLT operation are critical to NYRA’s operating plans, which were approved by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge on Thursday, and would help boost funds for public education.
Besides naming a new NYRA board, the state will also identify its NYRA oversight panel.
The panel will include Budget Director Laura Anglin as chairwoman; Gordon Medenica, lottery director; Sylvia Hamer, deputy secretary for technology, operations and gaming for Paterson; business executive Steve Newman; and Michael Avella, the Senate majority’s counsel.