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NYRA again pushing for privatization ahead of Saratoga meet

SARATOGA SPRINGS--This week, Saratoga Springs is gearing up for its 153rd year of horse racing.

The New York Racing Association—now close to entering its fourth year of state control—is at the helm.

NYRA had been plagued by problems before the state took over in 2012.

Leaders established a new board of directors to right the ship, running operations at Saratoga Race Course, Aqueduct, and Belmont. Originally, 12 of the 17 voting members were appointed by the state.

The next year, Chris Kay became President and CEO of NYRA.

“A number of things have changed [since the takeover,] Kay said.

“In every area or our business, in every area of our performance, we've really improved."

Kay points to changes in the way NYRA does business. He tells CBS 6 fewer horses are being injured each year.

He also boasts NYRA’s ‘debt-free status,’ along with its ability to turn a profit since the takeover.

“If you look at our bottom line, where we made money every year, and in fact paid federal taxes every year, or whether you look at just the amount of money from our daily racing operations, where we have a surplus-for the first time we've had a surplus in those areas for many years,” Kay said.

The original deal called for the state to give back control of NYRA after three years. That never happened.

NYRA approved a plan to go private this past April. In June, the New York State Legislature passed a bill that would have got the ball rolling, but the governor didn't sign it.

A new agreement extended state control until October 2017.

Just before the announcement was made, critics called out a proposal from Governor Andrew Cuomo. They claim the move would have capped the revenue NYRA could spend on track improvements.

The proposal also changed the shape of the board, giving state leaders 7 of 15 spots, along with a chairperson picked by the Governor.

“It’s not privatization. It's maintaining government control,” said Charles Wait, who sat on NYRA's board of directors for decades. He stepped down last year.

“Even though, nominally, he has one less board member than a majority control, he picks the chairmen and the capital improvement needs to be approved by state agencies that he controls," Wait continued.

Aside from the makeup of the board, critics of the Governor's plan say the uncertainty surrounding NYRA may actually be hurting business."

“It's not good news when you don't know what your future holds," said Jeffrey Cannizzo, a non-voting member of NYRA’s board and the head of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

“You can't operate any business in America year to year. You've got to have long-term plans, and that's the issue we have here with NYRA and New York racing. Is that the long-term plans have not been enacted,” Cannizzo said.

Uncertainty, critics argue, grows with every delay.

“The reality here is that one person stood in the way of an agreement this year. And that one person was the Governor,” said Todd Shimkus, head of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce.

Shimkus is also a member of the group Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing. He tells CBS 6 he wants the Governor to stop overreaching. Shimkus wants a deal to be struck soon to bring NYRA back to private, not-for-profit control.

"We don't have to wait until 2017 to write a good bill,” Shimkus said.

“We could write that any day now, and I think we could do that if the Governor would sit down with us and talk frankly and openly about the future and what we need to do to make that happen,” he continued.

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