In today’s New York Post, Frederic U. Dicker describes the latest fix for New York racing according to his unnamed sources in the Cuomo Administration. Even though the legislation giving control of New York’s prestigious racetracks to state government has still not been signed by the Governor, he has apparently decided that the real solution is to privatize management of the tracks. Dicker reports that Cuomo “plans to seek public bids for a new operator to replace NYRA, a not-for-profit corporation, from for-profit companies with deep experience in the racing and/or entertainment industries.”
According to a “source with firsthand knowledge:”
Why not let Churchill Downs compete with Santa Anita, with Formula One, with Madison Square Garden for the best operation of the tracks?
Well, I can think of several reasons. First, and foremost, is that thoroughbred racing in New York has been among the best - I would argue the best - in this country for many years. It is an industry with thousands of jobs throughout the state, and one entire region that is heavily dependent on racing for its economic vitality. If there are going to be major changes in the running of that industry, there should at first be an open and full discussion, not changes announced by executive fiat through a trusted reporter. Let us not forget that the state government’s taking control of racing was accomplished by a heavy-handed campaign of threats and intimidation and rushed through the State Legislature in a matter of days. As best I can determine, there was but one dissenting vote in both the Assembly and Senate. And the state’s media, starting with The New York Times raised not a single questioning voice. Even though this was accomplished with a sense of urgency normally limited to coping with natural disasters, the law still sits, unsigned, on the Governor’s desk, more than three months after its enactment.
Second, there is not the insignificant matter that the state’s seizure was said to be a “temporary” measure, in effect for only three years until control would be returned to a presumably chastened NYRA. In fact, the law specifically sets forth that three-year limit. Now, however, Fred Dicker’s sources are eagerly contemplating the “huge fees” that will be paid by the for-profit entities interested in running the tracks. One would have to think that no sensible business is going to spend a large amount of money for a contract not likely to be awarded - again, according to unnamed sources - until the “middle of next year” that will then expire two years later.
Third, let’s take a look at some of those prospective bidders. My sports loyalties are for teams in Boston, so I only pay attention to news about New York’s teams when it is negative. For that reason, the idea that Madison Square Garden - or one James Dolan - could end up running racing sends a chill down my spine. Now, I may have missed the positive stories about Dolan, but I must say the negative ones are pretty negative. Then there is Santa Anita Park, or to personalize it once more, Frank Stronach. It may be all you need to know about the racing experts in the Cuomo Administration that they think Stronach will be a positive force should he come to New York. They may be unaware that one of the most reliable and regular news stories about Stronach is the frequent and constant changes among the top managers for his racing ventures. The view that he would be a stabilizing influence on New York is nothing short of laughable.
Then there is the matter of the Cuomo Super PAC, or as it is known officially, the Committee to Save New York. The New York Times reported in June that casino interests had contributed some $2.5 million to the group. The Governor has refused to divulge the sources of other contributions that were made before the effective date of a law mandating such disclosures. What we do know, however, is that the Governor has made changing the state constitution to allow casinos one of his priorities. We also know that his interest in horse racing does not extend to attending premier events such as the Belmont Stakes or the Travers, but that in the space of less than four months, he has gone from ramming through a state government takeover of racing to now contracting it out to the highest bidder.
The law permitting the state takeover is entitled the “New York state racing franchise accountability and transparency act of 2012.” If there is one thing that is transparent about the Governor’s behavior relative to horse racing, however, it is that he believes “accountability and transparency” only applies to others. Maybe this time, either major media outlets, or the State Legislature, will pay more attention to what is going on.