One of the frustrations I have discussed previously is trying to determine the real reason for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s assault on the New York Racing Association. While almost every media outlet that reports on this issue liberally sprinkles the notion of a “scandal-plagued NYRA” throughout its coverage, there is virtually no discussion of what those scandals are. Yes, there was a delay in reducing the takeout percentage on certain bets by one percent, but no one points out that the financial “windfall” to NYRA was on the order of $1 million spread over some 15 months, more than half of which was returned to bettors. When said that way, it looks more like an oversight than grand larceny.
When the Governor succeeded in his effort to overthrow the NYRA Board and replace it with a 17-member Board composed of 12 government appointees, 8 of whom would be selected by him, here is what he gave as the reason:
With the structure of the gaming industry changing here in New York, the state also needs to take a new approach to how it manages and governs racing.
The change to which the Governor refers appears to be his proposal to amend the state’s Constitution to permit casino gambling. All that is required for that to happen is votes of two legislative sessions (one of which has occurred) and subsequent approval by the voters. This is not something that is either a certainty to happen and, if it does, it is down the road. Why this necessitates a change in the state’s approach to racing is neither clear nor was it articulated by the Governor.
This week brought the report from Frederic U. Dicker in the New York Post that the Governor “plans to seek public bids for a new operator to replace NYRA … from for-profit companies.” What is the reason for this dramatically different approach? Again, according to Dicker’s unnamed sources in the Administration:
Aides to Cuomo … had worked for months on a sweeping NYRA reorganization plan.… But in mid-summer, as the Saratoga meet got under way, the Cuomo aides decided that NYRA’s organizational structure and management team, which has had a series of scandals in recent years, wasn’t up to the job and that a new approach – proven outside management – was needed. (Emphasis is mine.)
The Governor’s Director of State Operations, Howard Glaser, appeared on Dicker’s WGDJ-AM radio program yesterday morning. While declining to comment on the Post piece, Glaser made some startling comments on his own. He began by stating – without providing any specifics – that the “functioning of NYRA is sub-standard.” Then, he said, “the state does not want to be in the business of managing horse racing.” Uhh … to coin a phrase, “isn’t that horse out of the barn?” Your boss seizes control of thoroughbred racing by replacing the current NYRA Board (on which, by the way, 11 of 25 members were state appointees) with a Board on which 12 of 17 members are state appointees. Glaser is saying the prior Board was “sub-standard,” but the state does not want “to be in the business of managing horse racing,” even though it is the new Board. According to Dicker’s piece, it is the shortcomings of the old NYRA that are the reason to privatize operations, even though it is now the Cuomo Administration that is now in charge.
Later on Monday, the Governor held a press conference in which he was asked about the Dicker report. He did not comment on it, saying he had not read it. Let’s see. Before the presser, I had read the piece and commented on it. The Governor says he did not read a brief news article written by his authorized biographer that quoted unnamed sources in his Administration on a subject he knew he would be asked about. I guess his laugh when he told the press corps that he had not read it was the signal that he was not being totally forthcoming.
The Governor also acknowledged not being knowledgeable about horse racing. While there is nothing wrong with that, it does beg the question of who in his Administration is calling the shots on this? Keep in mind that the first public acknowledgement that a state takeover of racing was being considered was in mid-May. In a month, the bill drafted by the Governor’s staff was enacted. One month later, the Governor’s aides decided that a state takeover may not be such a great idea and they decided to privatize operations. This was, if you can credit Dicker, after his staff had worked for months on a NYRA reorganization plan.
My suspicions are always aroused when a proffered reason for a given policy is so obviously bogus. That was the case when the Governor cited the “gaming industry changing” as his reason for the state takeover of NYRA. It was again the situation when I read the reason for privatizing track operations as NYRA’s inadequacies when the state will be controlling those operations.
There is one thing of which I am certain, and that is the importance of stability if New York racing is to survive. When I wandered about Saratoga this summer, the one constant I heard from owners, trainers, breeders and fans was the importance of bringing some stability to the industry. In
reason recent years, we have gone through a NYRA bankruptcy, a franchise renewal, waiting for the VLT monies to start coming, firing the head of NYRA, and the state taking over NYRA. We are still waiting for the Governor to name a new Board and, apparently, to decide if track operations are to be privatized. Despite all the criticism of NYRA from multiple media sources, one of the few constants in that litany of instability I just cited is the prominent role of state government in failing to get things done in a timely or efficient way. Nothing I heard yesterday from either the Governor or his Director of Operations suggests that is about to change.
The Governor realizes that the negative press about horseracing is not about to go away just because he took over. He doesn’t need horseracing’s perceived problems on his bio. He has to distance himself as fast as possible. I am not sure how he will get anyone to take over such an unstable franchise. Can any enterprise rely on doing business with the Governor at this point? Maybe Genting can, but I doubt a publicly traded company would be able to justfy it. Either there is an inside deal done already or this is a red herring.
Andrew Cuomo is looking for additional campaign contributions to fund his run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. What better way to add money to his coffers than by helping to award a major for-profit organization with the prize of running New York racing? Cuomo knows where the money is. Was his headline-making stand on gay marriage founded on steadfast moral principles? Or was it prompted more by the knowledge that this position would bring him considerable future political funding from the gay community, not just in New York but around the country?