Friday, December 3, 2010

Future of OTB in City is Cloudy at Best by Bryan Yurcan - Queens Chronicle

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If a person could place a wager on whether New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. will exist next year, he might get even odds.

The future of the embattled, cash-strapped organization is very much in doubt as the state Senate left a special session Albany this week without voting on a bill that would have extended a lifeline to the quasi-government agency.

Gov. Paterson has said the agency could shutter its doors this month if the Legislature didn’t pass the bill, which includes concessions from the agency, its unions and creditors.

The governor’s proposal calls for cuts in statutory payments to state racetracks, which have long been cited as a main reason for OTB’s money-losing ways.

The proposal would also expand free-play programs at racinos and gives OTB the authority to negotiate out-of-state simulcasting deals on behalf of all New York tracks.
And it would also permit a track consortium called the New York Racing Network to take over control of OTB if it fails to have a balanced budget.

However, state Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said the proposal had not been completely finalized when the Senate was ready to vote on it Monday.

“We went up there with the intention of handling this matter, but major chunks of the legislation were still being negotiated,” he said.

Addabbo, who chairs the Senate’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering committee, said he is concerned about the hundreds of jobs that will be lost if OTB indeed shuts its doors.

But, he said, that doesn’t mean the state is in a position to write the agency a blank check.

“We would like to see them come up with a plan that shows they can better manage their money,” Addabbo said.

Addabbo said he expects the Senate to vote on the measure before the year is out.
Paterson has said that if OTB closes, the state will be on the hook for more than $500 million in retiree health care and pension costs, and that around 500 employees would be laid off.

OTB was $228 million in debt when it filed for bankruptcy last year.

In June, the state Senate passed a bill that if signed into law would create a new Franchise Oversight Board, which would oversee OTB’s policies, capital and operating plans, simulcasting and budget. The oversight board would have the authority to approve or disapprove many of OTB’s functions.

The agency was created in 1970 and operates 70 betting parlors across the five boroughs.