New York’s politicians were undoubtedly in a self-congratulatory mood when they agreed on their legislation to reform the racing industry following the controversy surrounding the New York Racing Association. The pretentiously titled bill, “New York State Franchise Accountability and Transparency Act of 2012,” provides for neither. While there are undoubtedly numerous deserving candidates for this year’s category of cynical political moves, filing legislation touting “transparency” on the Saturday night before the Legislature adjourns the following Thursday is in the running.
In fairness, it should not be much of an effort for either individual legislators or the media to digest the legislation since it does very little that had not been announced previously. It transforms the NYRA Board from 25 members to 17, and instead of “only” 44 percent of the current board being comprised of political appointees, the streamlined version will have 8 gubernatorial appointees, an additional two each by the Senate and the Assembly, and the remaining five from NYRA. It also requires the disclosure of interests in racing by the individual members or their family. Finally, it delays implementation of the State Gaming Commission, created by law in March, from October 1 to February 1.
So what does it do to advance the laudable goal of accountability? Uhh, not so much unless you believe that state government’s controlling racing, by definition, ensures accountability. This would be the state government that so botched the 2010 Aqueduct VLT procurement that the Inspector General referred his report to various law enforcement agencies. Or, the state government that could not manage gambling facilities so as to make money in the City of New York. Or, the state government that had four of its agencies responsible for overseeing NYRA, yet none of them uncovered the alleged excess takeout percentage for the 15 months it was in place. Or, the state government that had 11 members on the NYRA Board who also missed the takeout issue.
Now that Governor Andrew Cuomo is firmly in charge, what can we expect from him in terms of accountability and transparency? Let’s start with the State Gaming Commission mentioned above. This comprehensive law (41 pages) consolidates the gaming activities of the state (including horse racing) in one body, and empowers it with considerable authority. It was proposed as a Cuomo initiative and signed into law by him on March 30. He appoints all seven commission members. How is it going thus far? Well, they do not have a web site and the “Accountability and Transparency Act” extends its effective date four months until February 1. I have yet to see a reason why the extension is needed, which may be a good segue to the topic of transparency.
The purported reason requiring the takeover of racing is, according to a statement accompanying the legislation, “the establishment of racinos, the creation of the New York State Gaming Commission, and a [proposed] constitutional amendment on commercial casinos.” These are, again according to the explanation, “exigent circumstances.” Racinos have been her a while, the Gaming Commission is so important that it has not, apparently, been established, and there is an amendment to the constitution that might pass. It is not even apparent what the connection is between these three events – two of which have not even occurred – and horse racing. If there really is a connection, how do the Governor and Legislature enact a 41-page law creating the Gaming Commission – after casinos became a priority – and not address the seemingly exigent circumstances of NYRA? I have not seen any media source address this, and have seen nothing from the Cuomo administration that even attempts to connect these matters other than his bald assertions.
I wrote previously about the lack of transparency in the Cuomo-initiated Committee to Save New York, a “social advocacy group” whose advocacy appears to be limited to Cuomo’s agenda. Thanks to The New York Times, we learned that casino interests contributed at least $2.4 million of the $17 million raised by the organization in 2011. We do not know who the other donors are, and Cuomo has refused to ask the group to identify them because, according to the Times, his job is limited to “telling people to abide by the law.” So, under the “Accountability and Transparency Act.” a member of the Board of Directors who owns a race horse must disclose that fact, but the Governor who appoints 8 of the 17 members does not have to reveal if his advocacy group received millions of dollars from entities that may have an interest in – to raise a hypothetical – the NYRA franchise.