Steinbrenner’s defection
opens door for NYRA bidders

Apr 3, 2007 5:10 AM

A number of high-profile people and companies were considered in the running for the New York racing franchise but the field has been thinning since Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced that bidders would be analyzed anew before he makes his decision in May.

The prize in this encounter is a 20-year franchise to operate New York’s premier thoroughbred racetracks — Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga — and build a slots emporium at one or more of the facilities.

For the past two decades, the tracks have been operated by the New York Racing Association (NYRA) whose leadership and employees, prior to the past two years, were hammered with criticism and even indictments. During this period, lawmakers and even some racing participants called for a change.

Ex-Gov. George Pataki called for interested parties to submit applications for the franchise that will become available on Jan. 1, 2008. Responses came from people in and out of racing.

Among them were the publicly-traded companies of Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN) and Magna Entertainment Corp. (MECA) who eventually joined forces to become the Empire Racing Group. Another was the politically-positioned Catskill Regional Off-Tack Betting Corp. And, more recently, casino mogul Steve Wynn joined with prominent developers Steve Roth of New York City and Richard Bronson of California, entered the fray.

Both Catskill Regional and the Wynn group have since bowed out of the running

That left the frontrunner; it appeared, as Excelsior Racing Associates, the group headed by Steve Swindal that was ranked No. 1 by the committee appointed by Pataki to evaluate the proposals.

That ranking was set aside by Spitzer who said that new evaluations would be made beginning next week and that he would not be influenced by prior choices.

Still, the Excelsior group remained confident. After all, one of Excelsior Racing’s major bargaining chips was its relationship to the N.Y. Yankees and its firebrand owner, George Steinbrenner, himself a very prominent person in the thoroughbred industry.

Also, Swindal, as Steinbrenner’s son-in-law, was chief honcho of the Yankees’ ball club.

All that came crashing down last week with the announcement that Steinbrenner’s daughter, Jennifer, was divorcing Swindal; that Swindal would no longer be in charge of the baseball team, and that the Steinbrenner Family was ending its relationship to the Excelsior Racing group.

A spokesman for Excelsior Racing indicated the group was reorganizing but they’ll have their hands full trying to replace Big George.

Starwood changes

Things haven’t been the same for Starwood Hotels & Resorts (HOT) since former Chairman and CEO Barry Sternlicht left the company two and one-half years ago.

He was replaced by Steven Heyer, who lacked the flamboyant operating style of his predecessor.

On Monday, the company surprised analysts and investors with the announcement that Heyer had been forced out. His management style, the company indicated, clashed with the aggressiveness sought by the board of directors.

Chairman Bruce Duncan, a member of the board for the past decade, was named interim CEO while the board searched for a successor.

Analysts were quick to indicate that the unexpected move could signal that Starwood Hotels & Resorts might be primed for a buyout.

Interestingly, Sternlicht is a member of the group that last week bid $27 per share to takeover Riviera Holdings Corp. (RIV), a bid that was rejected almost immediately.

CFO retires

One of the most admired casino executives in Las Vegas has retired. Glenn C. Christenson, a 17-year employee of Station Casinos Inc. (STN), ended his tenure with the company on Friday.

In February, the company announced that its leaders and major stockholders, Frank Fertittta, III, and his brother Lorenzo Fertitta, the chairman, CEO and president of the company, were joining with Colony Capital LLC to take Station Casinos private at $90 per share.

Christenson will provide consulting services to the company until the company’s acquisition or next March.

If, however, the deal falls through, Christenson will return to his post as the company’s principal financial officer.

THE INSIDER: Landry’s Restaurants, Inc. (LNY) has declared a quarterly dividend of $0.05 per share to be paid on Wednesday, April 25, to shareholders of record on April 25.

New Jersey’s first off-track betting facility for horse players opened over the weekend in Vineland. The state has authorized 15 off-track betting centers to be constructed around the state.

International Game Technology will report its second quarter fiscal 2007 earnings at 6 a.m. PDT on Thursday, April 19.

Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN) has completed the sale of Hoosier Park racetrack to Centaur Inc. of Indianapolis, Ind.

Gaming Partners International Corp. (GPIC) announced it was delaying its full-year 2006 financial report due to deficiencies in accounting control procedures.

Scientific Games Corp. (SGMS) has signed a five-year strategic agreement with Sportech Plc of Great Britain to provide soccer pari-mutuel tote services.

The British government’s plan to build a supercasino in Manchester, England, has been rejected by the House of Lords resulting in the government’s need to rewrite its gaming expansion plans.

The Seneca Nation of Indians has opened a $160 million casino in Salamanca, N.Y., near Buffalo.

Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN) will report its 2007 first quarter financial results at 4 a.m. PDT on Thursday, April 26.

Dover Downs Gaming & Entertainment Inc. (DDE) has announced plans for a $56 million expansion of its gaming facility with work to begin in June.

Analysts at Prudential Equity Group have downgraded the share of Ameristar Casinos Inc. (ASCA) saying the company lacks positive catalysts and its shares are fairly unattractive.

As of April 1, Mark Lipparelli has left his post as executive vice president, operators, at Bally Technologies Inc. (BYI).

Casino operator Genting International has bought out the 25% stake of Star Cruises in its Singapore casino-resort for $168 million.