NYRA, 1,400 jobs, saved again

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Thoroughbred racing in the state – and the jobs of at least 1,400 New Yorkers – have been saved with a $25 million loan to the New York Racing Association (NYRA).

Both the State Assembly and Senate approved the loan as part of an emergency budget “extender” in the twilight hours of Monday, May 24. The vote was 86-50 in the Assembly; 36-22 in the Senate.

Governor David Paterson had sent the budget bill – without any loan – to the Legislature on Friday and a separate bill providing a “working capital loan” for NYRA on Monday, according to an informed source.

The two were combined “in a five-way agreement between the four Legislative leaders and the Governor,” according to Senate Majority spokesperson Austin Shafran. “It was appropriate, since this is an emergency loan,” he said.

Sources indicated that there had been some resistance to the loan, because it saved NYRA but did nothing to save jobs at the bankrupt New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation. “But they had to vote for the extender or shut down the government,” one source explained.

NYRA had sent a warning to its remaining 1,400 employees that they could be laid off on Wednesday, June 9 – just days after the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel in racing’s “Triple Crown.”

With the approval of the loan, “The warn notice has been rescinded,” said David Smukler, NYRA Senior Vice President for Human Resources.

The loan is against future revenues from the 4,500 Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) Racino at Aqueduct – for which bids are being solicited, with a winner to be named in late August.

The winner would cover the loan out of the $250 million in bond revenue to be provided by the state for construction of the Racino, and NYRA would pay it back by next March 31, or 30 days after the state signs a deal with the VLT vendor.

If NYRA fails to repay on time, the Division of the Lottery, which is overseeing the bidding process, has the power to pay the balance by withholding some of NYRA’s fees.

NYRA chair Steven Dunckler expressed gratitude for the loan, “which guarantees world class thoroughbred racing at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct Racetrack.”

“We await the state’s August recommendation of the firm to develop and operate the Aqueduct VLT facility,” he said.