Cash-strapped New York racing under threat

NEW YORK Wed May 19, 2010 7:28pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The operator of New York state's three largest thoroughbred horse-racing tracks says its financial situation is so dire it may be forced to close operations this summer unless it gets state assistance.

"(The New York Racing Association's) current cash position will not allow us to make it through the entire Belmont Park race meet," the multi-track operator said in a statement.

"We are in discussions with the state regarding potential avenues for us to acquire funding," it added.

New York governor David Paterson has promised the state's racing season would not close.

"That's not going to happen," the governor told reporters this week. "We have a plan to loan NYRA, in the short term, money to get through Saratoga (the track's late summer racing program), and we're working on a long-term plan to help beyond that."

His plan would provide NYRA between $15 million and $25 million in loans.

NYRA, which runs the Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga tracks, is facing about a $20 million shortfall for the summer, U.S. Representative Scott Murphy, whose district includes the Saratoga race course, told Reuters Wednesday.

"The state has not lived up to its obligations," he said in a telephone interview from Washington.

"It would be a real disaster for all of New York's economy if we didn't have racing."

He said New York state had not paid about $55 million due the not-for-profit NYRA from various sources.

The shortfall comes as Belmont Park prepares for the June 5 Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown.

Murphy said NYRA's problems were two-fold and both state-related, Murphy said.

First, the state had promised NYRA operating money from April 2009 if video lottery terminals were not in operation at Aqueduct by that date.

But a vendor for the facility had not yet been determined, leaving NYRA short about $35 million in anticipated revenue, the congressman said.

An additional $17 million due to NYRA from New York City OTB (Off-Track Betting), which had been undergoing a bankruptcy process and was being operated by a state agency, was also outstanding, he added.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina. Editing by Ian Ransom)

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