Receiving heavy scrutiny from several recent scandals, NYRA executives buckled to pressure from the governor to move toward a more state-regulated form of operation and announced plans to create a NYRA Reorganization Board to help guide the faltering organization back into good standing.
The new, primarily state-appointed board will be made up of 17 directors, only five of whom will be selected by the current NYRA board. Currently, NYRA’s board consists of 25 directors, 14 NYRA-appointed and 11 selected by public officials, and the new arrangement will require legislation to implement, which both state and NYRA officials have agreed to support.
"The Historic Saratoga Race Course is a leading economic driver with an annual economic impact to the region of more than $200 million bringing visitors from across the globe to our communities,” said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. “We applaud Governor Cuomo for taking the lead in reforming NYRA so our bettors and members of the public can have their confidence restored in the racing industry for years to come.”
The public’s confidence of the organization’s ability to effectively self-manage was shaken when bettors learned that they had been overcharged over $8 million on certain winnings, and insult was added to financial injury when the public learned that top NYRA executives CEO Charles Hayward and Senior Vice President Patrick Kehoe were told about the problem but neglected to fix it.
When NYRA replaced Hayward with Ellen McClain, the COO who worked at NYRA below Hayward during the alleged bettor-overcharging, the state, the public, and horse racing lovers everywhere felt betrayed.
The state sees the formation of a reorganized board as a step toward regaining some of the public’s trust, and both state officials and NYRA representatives are eager to start the restructuring.
“The bettors, fans, public and government deserve trust in their racing,” said NYRA board member John Hendrickson. “This resolution is a necessary first step.”
“It’s especially significant that progress is made so that the upcoming Saratoga race meet is a successful one,” said Senator Roy McDonald, “due to the considerable economic impact six weeks of racing has on Saratoga Springs, Saratoga County, the Capital Region and the North Country.”
To areas like Saratoga Springs that rely heavily on horse racing-related income, racing industry reform is essential, and New York racing has more on its plate than just a defunct chain of command. Despite die-hard fans, a storied history and a lot of tax-payer support, horse racing has been struggling for years. With increasing reports of horse fatalities, accusations of drug use in horses and the economic success of casinos, the state feels that the industry is overdo for a makeover.
“With the structure of the gaming industry changing here in New York, the state needs to take a new approach to how it manages and governs racing,” Governor Cuomo said. “New Yorkers can be assured that the NYRA Reorganization Board will act in the interests of the members of the public who enjoy horse racing, the taxpayers who support it, and the horses themselves, to make racing in our state the strongest, safest and most enjoyable in the country.”
While the exact affect that these changes will have on the upcoming season remains to be seen, area leaders are optimistic.
“In 2012, we look forward to again hosting the best horses, the best jockeys, the best owners and hundreds of thousands of visitors and families in Saratoga,” said Shimkus, “and to celebrating 150 years of racing in Saratoga in 2013.”
“The NYRA Reorganization Board will help ensure that racing in New York has a strong and stable future as the gaming and racing industry evolves,” said NYRA board chair Steven Duncker. “Together we will work to ensure a smooth transition and bright future for New York racing."