NYRA Introduces Plan For Privatization

Apr 21, 2016

New York Racing Association President and CEO Chris Kay spoke at last week’s Reorganization Board meeting to highlight the continued financial success of the organization.

Since NYRA was placed into public hands by the state in 2012 after years of declining attendance and revenues, the state-appointed board appears to have turned the organization around.

Last summer’s record-breaking season, boosted by a Triple Crown win and shocking defeat at Saratoga for famed horse American Pharoah, helped NYRA secure a second straight year of operating profits. The organization has made big investments at its tracks, including improvements to the grounds and a controversial new seating reservation system at Saratoga.

2016 has already proved to be a successful year, according to Kay. He said advance passes for June’s Belmont Stakes Racing Festival are outselling last year’s pace. NYRA’s handle for the first three months of the year is up $58 million.

“That means that 79.24 percent of the national increase in handle during January through March 2016 was attributable, solely, to NYRA’s growth in handle during that same quarter.”

Surpluses are forecast for 2016 and 2017.

The good financial news served as a prelude to the introduction of NYRA’s reorganization plan.

The plan has three options. The first would replace the NYRA Reorganization Board with 15 private members. A second would include leadership from 15 members, four of whom would be appointed by state leaders. A third option would delay privatization and keep the current board in place for an additional year.

John Hendrickson, special advisor to the NYRA Board and husband of Marylou Whitney, urged NYRA to send a message in favor of privatization. Hendrickson has been a vocal critic of the state’s decision to delay privatization for a year, pushing back its original reorganization deadline of October 2015.

“If they do it again, what prevents government from running racing forever? So I think we have to have a conclusion and we have to be very strong on it,” said Hendrickson.

Ultimately the NYRA board passed a measure to urge the state to select either of the options to re-privatize the board this year.

The prospect of re-privatization has been long-awaited by many advocates in Saratoga Springs, including Georgie Nugent Lussier. Lussier, appointed last fall,  is the only voting-member of the NYRA Reorganization Board representing the Spa City. Jeffrey Cannizzo, Executive Director of the Saratoga Springs-based New York Thoroughbred Breeders, was appointed as a non-voting member in March.

Lussier says re-privatization is essential to give NYRA solid ground for future financial planning.

“It’s difficult to get our capital plan to look at long-term objectives and investments and what we need for each track going forward not knowing the future.”

The plan will be submitted to the state legislature for approval. The legislative session ends in June. If approved, the NYRA board has proposed the organization immediately become a privately run organization.