The parent company of the Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack is not Gov. Eliot Spitzer's choice to operate the state thoroughbred-racing franchise. The Legislature, however, may feel differently.

Empire Racing, parent company of the Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, failed to get the governor's recommendation to operate the state's thoroughbred racing franchise.


Empire Racing's Buffalo-based subsidiary Delaware North Co. owns and operates the local racetrack, but the Farmington facility is not included in the state franchise agreement being considered.


Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced Tuesday that he wants the beleaguered New York Racing Association (NYRA) to continue operating the Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga tracks.


The lucrative franchise for them expires Dec. 31.


Spitzer says leaving the racing association in charge would avoid a lengthy legal battle.


Under an agreement with Spitzer, the association would give up its claim of ownership of the three tracks if its franchise agreement is extended — possibly for up to 30 years. The association has operated those facilities under a state franchise since 1955. The state claims it owns the tracks.


Spitzer's recommendation goes to state lawmakers, where considerable political discord has stunted negotiations. His choice may not be their choice.


Empire Racing today urged that the governor's recommendation be rejected.
The Senate's racing committee will hold a hearing next Wednesday, Sept. 12, on Spitzer's recommendations.


The governor has not recommended who should run video slot machines at Aqueduct, and possibly Belmont, but a separate gaming franchise will be awarded within the next two months.


In a press statement released this morning, Empire Racing said it "commends the governor for trying to tackle a complex problem, but his recommendation to retain the failed status quo is bad for horse racing and bad for New York taxpayers. It fails to provide for economic development upstate and the kind of creative vision that racing needs and deserves.  It must be rejected."


"It is widely accepted that splitting horse racing and gaming is a losing bet, which is why few successful tracks around the globe separate them," Empire Racing's statement continued.  "This notion was rejected when it was floated by the administration several months ago. and its survival in the Governor’s recommendation is a mystery."


"The Governor has spent the last eight months devising his plan to keep the status quo in racing while he seemingly punted on gaming" Empire Racing stated. "Now it’s time for the Legislature to forge a true solution that will benefit New Yorkers and use the thoroughbred-racing franchise as an engine for economic development throughout the state."


Empire is a conglomerate based in Saratoga Springs. Along with Excelsior Racing Associates and Capital Play, it was one of three contenders for the soon-to-expire franchise.


All of the contenders had reason to believe their bids were viable.


The NYRA has lost tens of millions of dollars over the years. It has been the focus of numerous state and federal investigations into mismanagement, and the state has spent at least $30 million over the years to keep the Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga Springs tracks operating.


The association is a private, not-for-profit organization that has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.


Under the agreement proposed by Spitzer, the organization would receive $75 million to save it from bankruptcy and its debts to the state would be forgiven.


The other competitors say once pension payments are included, the NYRA's bailout could balloon to $100 million.


The racing association's memorandum of agreement with the governor also requires downsizing its board of directors from 28 members to 19.


Government watchdog groups in Albany reported the for-profit competitors collectively spent more than $1 million in lobbying and campaign contributions in recent years while lawmakers considered the fate of the franchise.


Billie Owens can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 320, or at bowens@mpnewspapers.com.