NYRA names Handel as chief operating officer

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Hal Handel, the seasoned racetrack executive who has spent his career at racetracks in the mid-Atlantic, has been hired as the chief operating officer of the New York Racing Association and will begin his new job on Sept. 10, NYRA announced Thursday.

Handel, 60, left his job as chief executive officer of Greenwood Racing, the owner of Philadelphia Park casino and racetrack and several other racing properties, with one year left on his contract to take the NYRA position. Handel's contract with NYRA, which operates Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga under a franchise that expires at the end of this year, will last for two years.

"It sounded like a no-brainer to me," Handel said. "This is where I wanted to be at this point in my career."

Handel will fill the role most recently held by Bill Nader, who resigned from NYRA in March to take the position of executive director of racing at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Like Nader, Handel is one of the most well-respected racing executives in the country.

"It was almost a dream come true that we were able to get him," said Stephen Duncker, the chairman of NYRA.

Handel, who earned his law degree from Seton Hall University in 1972, began his career in racing as general counsel to the New Jersey Racing Commission in 1977. He was promoted to deputy director and then executive director in 1983.

In 1986, Handel was hired as general manager of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands. In 1991, he was promoted to executive vice president and chief operating officer. He left the the New Jersey agency to join Greenwood Racing in 1998.

At the time Handel joined Greenwood, the company's major revenue source was its Philadelphia track, its telephone betting service, and its six offtrack betting parlors. The company later acquired Freehold Raceway in New Jersey and formed a partnership with Penn National Gaming to acquire Atlantic City Race Course in New Jersey, and late last year opened a large slot-machine casino in Philadelphia's grandstand.

In recent years, Handel has focused his efforts on developing an account-wagering operation in New Jersey and starting an offtrack betting network in the state. NYRA launched its own online account-wagering operation this year.

NYRA is considered a leading contender to continue to operate the racetracks as part of any franchise deal, although control over a yet-to-be-built slot-machine casino at Aqueduct is still thought to be wide open.

Though considered a longshot, a component of a deal to award the franchise could include the incorporation of one or more of New York's county-owned offtrack betting corporations into the racetracks. Charles Hayward, NYRA's chief executive, cited Handel's recent experience with offtrack betting as being a component of the decision to hire Handel.

Handel said that if NYRA does not receive a renewal of its franchise, "I'll be out of a job."