By Howard Koplowitz
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli subpoenaed records from the New York Racing Association Monday after he said the organization refused to give him access to financial information.
“Less than six months ago, NYRA said it was financially stable,” DiNapoli said of the entity that controls horse racing at Aqueduct Race Track, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.
Last week NYRA said it was running out of money and banking on funds it would have received from video lottery terminals at Aqueduct to stay afloat. NYRA said the situation was so dire that if it did not receive help from the state ,it would have to cancel the Belmont Stakes in June.
The race is the third and final leg of the Triple Crown, which begins with the winner of the Kentucky Derby.If that horse wins the Preakness Stakes, then the third event is the Belmont Stakes.
Gov. David Paterson and legislative leaders have for months been unable to come to a decision on which of five companies to select to operate the VLTs at Aqueduct, which officials estimated would bring in $1 million a day to the state. DiNapoli said the state has promised 14 percent to 16 percent of VLT revenues to NYRA.
“Now NYRA says without VLT money it may not be able to stay in operation until the Belmont Stakes. In the meantime, it’s been trying to hide its books from my auditors,” DiNapoli said. “It’s the same old NYRA in new sheep’s clothing, trying to shortchange taxpayers again.”
NYRA responded by saying it is overseen by the state attorney general’s office, the state Racing and Wagering Board, the state Franchise Oversight Board and the state Department of Taxation and Finance %u2013 not DiNapoli’s office.
“NYRA cooperates fully with those state agencies that have actual legal authority to regulate and audit its operations,” it said in a statement. “Any suggestion that the taxpayers are placed at risk by the constitutional prohibition on comptroller audits of NYRA is misleading.”
“NYRA operates for the benefit of New York,” the comptroller said. “Taxpayers have a right to know what’s going on, and we’re going to audit NYRA and find out.”
The audit will investigate the millions of dollars in state payments made to NYRA over the past couple of years and funds NYRA owed the state, DiNapoli said.
NYRA emerged from bankruptcy in 2008 when the state paid NYRA at least $105 million in exchange for the organization ceding ownership of the land underneath Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.