Monday, June 8, 2009

NYRA Tries Same Old Bets - Times Union Albany

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In at least one regard, the "newly constituted" New York Racing Association is a lot like the old NYRA: Both have produced comparable excuses for disregarding the wishes of state regulators.

The old NYRA frequently didn't pay franchise fees under an accounting program the state didn't accept. Nor did it follow procurement rules prescribed by state regulators. It ignored warnings of excessive spending. It committed felony fraud and collapsed into bankruptcy court.

The new NYRA -- with some of the same bosses and board members as the former version -- accepted $105 million in state funds to emerge from bankruptcy court, and agreed to changes. It dropped a suit against the state and turned over deeds to property the state contended it already owned. It said it would cooperate with a franchise oversight board.

Instead, it's taking the franchise board to court. NYRA is suing the state, the oversight board and Laura Anglin, the board's chairperson and the director of the budget, because Anglin planned to honor the Times Union's Freedom of Information Law request for NYRA's 2009 operating budget. (In the interests of full disclosure: I filed the request before Christmas last year.)

The suit is costing the state. Filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, it's being defended by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who has sought a venue change to Albany. NYRA seeks to block the release of the documents and calls for the state to pick up its legal bill.

NYRA attorney Pasquale Viscusi says the Times Union shouldn't receive the material because NYRA has won court cases previously to protect the content of its contracts and its financial records. NYRA would face a competitive disadvantage if details came out, Viscusi said.

NYRA received a new 25-year franchise to exclusively operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga last year, agreeing to stronger oversight by the state.

As part of that enhanced scrutiny, Anglin last December called for fuller details in the operating plan. Almost seven months later, the franchise board still hasn't approved the plan. Further, NYRA agreed to provide audited financial reports of its operations by March 31. It has failed to do so. It's excuse: Its auditing firm hasn't been approved by the franchise board, whose members question the bidding process used by NYRA.

Anglin is being sued for siding with records access lawyer Kathy Bennett, who said NYRA should not expect to operate as it has in the past. "Given the level of state oversight and fiscal involvement, the public has a legitimate interest in NYRA's operations," Bennett wrote. "Any court decisions that were rendered during the period of NYRA's previous franchise would not be relevant, given the new arrangement under with NYRA now operates."

James M. Odato can be reached at 454-5083 or by e-mail at