Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken the reigns of the troubled New York Racing Association Board, saying he needs to “restore the public trust” in a rapidly changing gaming industry.
Cuomo convinced members of the independent board that oversees horse racing in New York to agree to a restructuring that will give the governor the majority of appointees on a new, slimmed down board.
The move comes after a series of controversies at the troubled New York Racing Association, which led to the recent firing of its president and top legal counsel over allegations that NYRA knowingly withheld millions of dollars owed to bettors.
“We have to work to restore the public trust,” said Cuomo. “There have been a series of episodes.”
NYRA, formed in the 1950s, has had a long history of battling governors and the legislature. In recent years it has been forced to declare bankruptcy, and was even indicted on fraud and conspiracy charges.
In the past few weeks, Cuomo and his aides have accused top NYRA officials of deliberately overcharging gamblers who won what’s known as exotic wagers, like trifectas, by $8.5 million dollars. They say NYRA failed to comply with changes to the state’s tax laws. Cuomo’s inspector general began an investigation.
After the latest controversy, Cuomo’s aides ordered the state Lottery Division to withhold slot machine payments earned at Aqueduct race track, worth about $3 million dollars a month, starving the financially shaky NYRA from a vital source of revenue.
NYRA Board member Charles Wait, who represented the board at the announcement, was full of praise for the governor and his actions.
“The New York Racing Association supports this legislation wholeheartedly,” said Wait.
The changes means the governor will gain control over NYRA for a crucial three years, during a time he plans to remake the gaming industry in New York state.
Cuomo is seeking a constitutional amendment to allow up to seven new non-Indian gambling casinos in the state, and has proposed an enormous convention center and gambling parlor at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens.
“The gaming world is changing,” said Cuomo.
He hopes to create an economic “synergy” between horse racing and other forms of gambling.
Cuomo will relinquish control of the NYRA board in three years. During the time he controls the board, though, the governor wants a closer look at allegations of trainers and owners using drugs to boost horse’s racing performances, sometimes resulting in the horses’ death.
The announcement comes days before the third leg of the Triple Crown race at Belmont, where it’s possible that there will be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, and two months before the start of the summer Saratoga thoroughbred racing season. Cuomo says the events are not related, and a coincidence.
The governor says he will attend the prestigious Belmont race on June 9, if his schedule allows it.
Cuomo was joined at the announcement by legislative leaders, who say they intend to pass the bills to restructure NYRA as soon as the governor has them ready.