A candidate for New York's lucrative thoroughbred racing franchise _ battling back after it was scratched from the competition _ is proposing the richest plan yet: $1.8 billion (euro1.37 billion) for the state and racing industry.
"We were disqualified on a technicality," Capital Play chief executive Karl O'Farrell said during a recent day spent lobbying lawmakers. "It should be about what's best for racing."
Capital Play, an Australian consortium with a New York office, is making its case directly to the state Legislature after being dropped from consideration in November by Gov. George Pataki's racing task force. The franchise will allow a private group to operate the Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga tracks along with video slot machines at Aqueduct and Belmont.
Capital Play's proposal includes some unconventional ideas. The group said it would eventually allow off-track betting facilities to handle all wagering on and off tracks, a cost-saving move that could end the longtime conflict between OTBs and tracks.
The proposal also calls for hotels at Belmont and Aqueduct; targeting younger bettors; building corporate boxes as in sports arenas; installing synthetic tracks that are considered safer for horses; investing $225 million (euro171 million) at Aqueduct and $225 million at Belmont; attracting corporate sponsors for every race; and giving unused land around the New York City tracks back to the state for development.
"Twenty years ago, Australian racing was similar to what New York state racing is today _ broken, for lack of a better word," said O'Farrell, a native of Ireland. "We did a rebounding of racing focusing on 18- to 34-year-olds."
He said the group would follow the "Australian model" that makes going to the track a social event, now the case only at Saratoga during its short summer season.
"You should go to a race track and think, `This is a place of beauty,'" he said.
In November, the state committee charged with assessing franchise proposals recommended Excelsior Racing Associates, a group headed by New York Yankees partner Steve Swindal and casino developer Richard Fields. Empire Racing, a Saratoga Springs group that includes Churchill Downs and Magna Entertainment along with horse owners and breeders, came in a close second. The New York Racing Association, which has held the franchise since 1955, came in last.
The Legislature and the governor will award the 20-year franchise in 2007.
Capital Play was eliminated from the field after missing an August deadline for posting a bond against any litigation stemming from the process. O'Farrell said the delay was caused by Capital Play's status as a foreign company, but that the bond was in place for the Nov. 21 meeting where the racing committee rated bidders on issues such as "integrity" and plans to improve attendance and facilities.
Excelsior did not guarantee annual payments to the state, but promised to pay at least $100 million (euro76 million) up front and was the only competitor with a plan to pay more than $50 million (euro38 million) in pension debt owed by NYRA. Now Capital Play says it will cover that debt, which it estimates at $110 million (euro83.6 million).
Excelsior's closest competitor, Empire Racing, proposed $100 million (euro76 million) up front, with $7.5 million (euro5.7 million) more annually for 20 years, including revenue from a proposed hotel at Aqueduct.
Capital Play's plan includes $850 million (euro646 million) in payments to the state over the life of the franchise.
NYRA's franchise is scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2007. NYRA, which did not offer guaranteed payments, has sought to renew the franchise despite its recent brushes with insolvency and a history of mismanagement that resulted in state and federal investigations. NYRA is now suing the state, claiming it owns the tracks.
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