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Excelsior gets nod to run New York racing

A state committee that has spent the last 11 weeks evaluating proposals to run Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course and a casino at Aqueduct recommended Tuesday that Excelsior Gaming Associates operate New York's racing franchise.

Steve Swindal, the son-in-law of Yankees general partner George Steinbrenner, heads Excelsior Gaming Associates, a for-profit group that also includes the former Donald Trump associate and casino developer Richard Fields, plus the real estate development company Tishman Speyer Properties.

Excelsior's bid was rated the highest among three bids. The other bids were from Empire Racing Associates, a for-profit partnership of New York businessmen and racing companies, and the New York Racing Association, the non-profit company that holds the current franchise but recently filed for bankruptcy protection.

The recommendation by the committee is non-binding but will make Excelsior the front-runner to be awarded the franchise to operate the tracks and the Aqueduct casino for the next 20 years. Any deal to award the franchise must be approved by both the New York legislature and the governor. NYRA's franchise expires at the end of 2007.

"The committee's informed recommendation is the culmination of months of hard work and we would expect that the governor and the legislature will give it the weight it deserves," said Scott Reif, a spokesman for the committee.

According to the complex scoring method used by the committee, Excelsior's bid rated a 94.6 under a scenario in which slot machines would be approved for Aqueduct. Empire's bid was rated at 93, while NYRA trailed distantly with its bid, rated at 76.5.

Under a second option, in which slot machines would be legalized at Belmont Park under all three different scenarios, Excelsior scored at 97; Empire followed at 92.5; and NYRA trailed at 76.5.

The New York legislature does not have any plans to reconvene this year, though it is possible for lawmakers to come back into session before the end of the year. The legislature is expected to need to address significant reforms in New York's racing law before a franchise can be awarded, and therefore approval this year of a new franchiseholder is considered unlikely.