A legislative bill to protect Finger Lakes Race Track horsemen and New York's thoroughbred breeding industry has been introduced by state Senator John Bonacic, chairman of the Senate's Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee. The imminent opening of the del Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, 27 miles east of Finger Lakes Race Track (FLRT) in Farmington, is expected to cannibalize patrons and revenue from gaming and wagering operations at FLRT and neighboring regions of the state.
The more casinos the merrier? Not so much.
Last year Delaware North, FLRT's owner, lobbied for and received tax incentives for their on-site racino on par with tax incentives granted del Lago. The horsemen, who constitute the backbone of horse racing at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racing, were unsuccessful in having the law revised to protect purses from a projected precipitous decrease caused by the expected migration of players to the new casino.
Racing purses are in part funded by revenue from video lottery terminals (VLT) at the Finger Lakes racino. VLT players siphoned off to the del Lago casino will result in a decreased revenue stream for FLRT purses.
Lower purses mean reduced income for the owners and trainers who populate Finger Lakes' backstretch. With diminished purses, there would be fewer horses and races; and less need for the jockeys, exercise riders, grooms, hot walkers, farriers and veterinarians who are the fabric of track life.
The races at FLRT are chock-full of horses bred, raised and trained in New York. The robust thoroughbred industry in central and western New York is supported by incentives from the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding & Development Fund that is funded in part by a micro percentage of VLT revenues.
Lower VLT revenues will diminish the funding streams that sustain the incentives that attract breeders and owners to the NY-bred program. Without the protections afforded in S01003, industry downsizing is inevitable. When breeding and training facilities reduce operations or shut down, jobs evaporate. Every horse farm has a web of suppliers - including feed stores, landscapers, small machinery repair shops, lumber mills and farm machinery dealers. When a farm closes, negative outcomes ripple throughout its community.
All is not lost.
Never a collective to act before necessity, last year the legislature left bills similar to S01003 languishing. With the clock ticking - del Lago is scheduled to open February 1, now is time for legislators to tweak the original legislation and counteract the predation of FLRT operations. *
Under current law, race tracks within the same designated geographic region as a new casino are protected. The challenge that FLRT faces is despite proximity FLRT and del Lago are in different regions. The revised law will extend protection to racetracks within 50 miles of del Lago, regardless of region.
Senator Bonacic explains the importance of S01003:
This legislation is necessary to protect horsemen, breeders, and the entire racing industry from the projected loss of revenue at Finger Lakes when Del Lago begins operations. This is a critical issue and that is why the Senate Budget Resolution last year proposed to address it. Unfortunately, it was not resolved in the final budget, but I will continue to fight to protect the horsemen, breeders, and all the jobs created by the racing industry in New York. **
Bonacic's legislation states:
If an applicant that does not possess either a pari-mutuel wagering license or franchise awarded pursuant to article two or three of this chapter is issued a gaming facility license pursuant to this article, the licensee shall pay:
(a) an amount to horsemen for purses at the licensed racetracks in the region and in the case of region five any licensed racetracks within fifty miles of the licensee's facility, that will assure the purse support from video lottery gaming facilities in the region and in the case of region five any such licensed racetracks within fifty miles of the licensee's facility, to the licensed racetracks in the region and in the case of region five any such facilities within fifty miles of the licensee's facility, to be maintained at the same dollar levels realized in two thousand thirteen to be adjusted by the consumer price index for all urban consumers, as published annually by the United States department of labor bureau of labor statistics; and
(b) amounts to the agricultural and New York state horse breeding development fund and the New York state thoroughbred breeding and development fund to maintain payments from video lottery gaming facilities in the region and in the case of region five any such facilities within fifty miles of the licensee's facility, to such funds to be maintained at the same dollar levels realized in two thousand thirteen to be adjusted by the consumer price index for all urban consumers, as published annually by the United States department of labor bureau of labor statistics.
* It will be up to Governor Cuomo to sign the legislation into law in a timely manner.
** Senator Bonacic responded to an email query. A spokesman for del Lago Resort & Casino did not respond to an email query.