Sunday, January 31, 2010

NYRA May Face More Troubled Times Ahead by Stephen Geffon - Queens Chronicle

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As if the New York Racing Association didn’t have enough problems, now the group is facing fines of up to $37,500 a day for pollution violations, according to officials. The most egregious citation is for the dumping of horse manure, wastewater and other pollutants into Jamaica Bay.

NYRA has been cited with a total of 14 violations by the State Department of Environmental Conservation — nine violations at Belmont Park, three at Aqueduct Race Track and two more at Saratoga Race Course upstate, according to a Dec. 21 notice sent to the association. DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said the notice was for illegal discharges and not complying with the deadlines in their existing consent orders. It further stated that in order to resolve the matter, NYRA officials must attend a compliance conference.

According to DEC spokesperson Yancey Roy, the agency had preliminary discussions with officials at NYRA and its legal office is attempting to get the association to enter a consent agreement to settle the infractions.

NYRA declined to comment.

“I applaud the DEC for their diligence in protecting our natural resources,” said Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park). “NYRA must comply with all state laws, as must every other business in New York State, and we will not allow them to continue with these heinous actions.”

NYRA already faces scrutiny by elected officials concerned about its financial and operating efficiency after the association announced that it may run out of funds by next summer.

In December, NYRA President and Chief Executive Officer Charles Hayward said the group may run out of money in June if the state doesn’t pick a bidder to construct and operate the Aqueduct video lottery terminals soon. NYRA is slated to get a negotiated percentage of the revenue from the 30-year Aqueduct VLT contract, Hayward said.

Another factor cited by Hayward for NYRA’s running out of cash was a 10 percent decline in wagering at Aqueduct this year. In addition, the bankrupt New York City Off Track Betting Corp. owes NYRA $18.7 million.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli subpoenaed records from NYRA last month after it denied his office access to them.

“Less than six months ago, NYRA said it was financially stable,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Now NYRA says without VLT money it may not be able to stay in operation until the Belmont Stakes. NYRA operates for the benefit of New York. Taxpayers have a right to know what’s going on, and we’re going to audit NYRA and find out.”

DiNapoli’s audit, which NYRA agreed to last week, will examine the millions of dollars in state payments made to the association over the past couple of years and monies owed to the state by NYRA.

“We are complying,” said NYRA spokesman Dan Silver. “Aside from that we have no further comment.”

The state Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee and the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations also want to have a look at NYRA’s records. Last week the committees’ chairmen sent a joint letter to NYRA requesting all its financial records, including cash statements, liabilities, debts and tax returns.

The letter stated that although the chairmen were encouraged by NYRA’s decision to share much of its financial information with and open its books to the comptroller, “much more disclosure is required to shed light on the ways in which tax dollars have been spent and to explain the causes of NYRA’s possible exhaustion of its funds.”

The letter also invited NYRA officials to testify at an upcoming joint committee public hearing on Feb. 3.

Silver said NYRA officials have received the letter and are reviewing it.