Monday, February 19, 2007

Look, I Just Want to Go to the Damn Track

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I really look forward to heading out to the track in late March, at the first sign of spring. There might be a snag in my schedule, though. NYRA says it lost $3.9 million in January and $7.9 million in December, and claims it only has enough money to stay in business until mid-March. Rats.

NYRA (the New York Racing Association) is the not-for-profit that runs Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga, and they are always in trouble. About a year-and-a-half ago, they managed to wriggle out of a deferred federal prosecution stemming from alleged money-laundering and tax evasion by mutuel clerks. This little victory didn't solve their financial woes though, and in November 2005, a plan was cooked up to install video slot machines at Aqueduct, which NYRA claimed would raise upwards of $400 million a year. They were supposed to be operational in late 2006 or early 2007 (read: now).

Apparently NYRA couldn't come up with an arrangement which was acceptable to the New York State Lottery Division, who still hadn't approved installation of the machines by last fall, after construction was well underway for their arrival at Aqueduct. So NYRA filed for bankruptcy in November of last year.

They get their day in court this week, but New York State says they shouldn't be allowed to file for bankruptcy because NYRA is sort of a government agency (semi-governamental? quasi-governmental?).

Weirder still, NYRA says it owns the land that the three tracks are built on; they have the deeds and have been paying property taxes on it since the franchise's inception in 1955, but New York State is claiming that the land is actually state-owned, and wants to get NYRA's case thrown out. The irony of course is that if the case is thrown out, New York State will have to bail NYRA out (and, one would think, pay them back the $450 million they've coughed up in property taxes over the last 50 years).

NYRA's franchise on the three tracks expires at the end of the year, and they came in a distant third in the bidding for a new contract. The front runner for the contract is politically-well-connected Excelsior Racing Associates. One of the excelsior partners is George Steinbrenner's son-in-law, Steve Swindal (no, really, that's his name).

Swindal was arrested for drunk driving in Florida last week, but a spokesman told the press the Mr. Swindal "apologizes profusely." I'm sure New York racing's troubles will be over one Mr. Swindal takes the reins.