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Racing Association reined in; State-controlled board to take control of track operators

With the Cuomo administration threatening to end its exclusive gambling franchise, the operators of the state's largest racetrack corporation have agreed to turn their reins over to a state-controlled board of directors.

The New York Racing Association, whose track holdings include Belmont Park, the home of the upcoming third leg of the Triple Crown, will be run for the next three years by a board led by a majority of directors appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders.

The state takeover comes after the latest scandal to hit the operators of Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks -- this one involving $8.5 million in illegal overcharges to its bettors at gambling outlets including Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.

The Democratic governor insisted that the state is not in the racing business for the long haul but that the takeover comes following decades of controversies at the nonprofit racing giant and hundreds of millions in various state subsidies to keep its operations afloat.

The private corporation Tuesday agreed to reduce its current 25-member board to a 17-member body, with 11 of the members chosen by the governor and Legislature, and the chairman appointed by the governor.

The timing of the move comes as focus is on the NYRA-run Belmont racetrack, which in less than three weeks will see racehorse I'll Have Another seek to become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years.

"NYRA desperately needs a major overhaul. Reorganizing the board is a step in the right direction," said State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, whose auditors first uncovered that NYRA had for 15 months overcharged bettors making wagers on NYRA races.

The Cuomo administration in recent weeks had threatened to yank the licenses of NYRA officials and board members and cancel its exclusive racetrack franchise.