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NYRA Deal Aims To Revamp State's Horse Racing Industry

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Just weeks before the eyes of the horse racing world will be on the Belmont Stakes, Governor Andrew Cuomo, along with the state's legislative leaders, announced Tuesday a deal to begin serious reform of the troubled New York Racing Association.

The plan calls for a 17-person advisory board, made up of seven appointees from the governor, five from NYRA and two each from the GOP-led State Senate and the Democratic-led State Assembly.

The board will be chaired by an additional Cuomo appointee who must be confirmed by the other board members.

The new makeup of the not-for-profit corporation will be in effect for the next three years to restructure, reorganize and conduct a "national" search for leadership.

At the end of three years, the board will go back to majority private control.

NYRA had been under fire recently for withholding more than $8 million that should have been paid to bettors for so-called exotic bets, which means bettors bet on multiple horses in a single race.

The deaths of 20 horses at Aqueduct over the winter are also being probed.

Earlier this month, NYRA replaced its top two officials, including NYRA president Charles Hayward.

"They always say it's not the crime but the cover-up," said Assemblyman Gary Pretlow of Westchester. "In this case there was a classic cover-up. Charlie Hayward was informed over a year and a half ago that NYRA was taking out too much money on exotic bets. He chose not to stop. Then, when it was found out, claimed he did not know about it."

The corporation has been in control of racing at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks since 1955. Cuomo said Tuesday that many of the organization's problems could be traced back to its inception.

"I think you can go back to almost the time that NYRA was first started, 1955 or so, I think the structure was problematic from the birth," he said. "I think you've seen over the years that structure has never really worked quite well, literally, since the '50s."

Speaking to reporters in Albany, Cuomo said NYRA could have major economic benefits for the state but only if New Yorkers have faith in the organization.

"This is going to have a dramatic effect on racing and if we're really smart, we figure out how to bring these pieces together and develop a synergy between racing, gaming, etcetera," he said. "Second, we have to restore the public trust."

The governor has also expressed a desire to consolidate all of the state's gaming including racing, casinos and the lottery, under one authority.

The Belmont Stakes, scheduled for June 9, is the final jewel in horse racing's Triple Crown.

Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another will vie to be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

On Tuesday, Cuomo denied that the upcoming Belmont played a part in his decision.

"There were a series of episodes that have happened recently," he said. "We've been in conversations for a couple of weeks, so the timing happens to be coincidental with Belmont. And Belmont, if my schedule allows, I'd like to be there."

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