News & Politics

Racetracks One More Thing Suffering from Incompetent Albany Rule


Those of us who selfishly thought of the Aqueduct racino mess merely as a political scandal should be ashamed. The death of the AEG bid for the video slots franchise now leaves a gaping hole, not only in the state’s coffers, but in those of the New York Racing Association, which runs Aqueduct and other local tracks, and the towns in which the tracks reside.

While the Paterson Administration is “drafting new rules” for the re-bidding process — and you can imagine how long that will take, as will sifting through all the eager new bidders — the New York Racing Association, which gets a cut of the VLT proceeds when and if they materialize, is leaking blood while it waits.

The association has already had to cut purses at Saratoga Springs and Belmont, and there’s even talk of closing Saratoga down for the year.

When Saratoga Springs got its own video lottery terminal business in 2003, it was bringing in money hand over fist, grossing $6.3 million in its opening weekend. A lot of that was spoken for, of course (as with Lotto, most of the proceeds go to the school system). But the state was pitching in millions in aid to the town to keep the money spigot running clean, and NYPA got theirs.

But what the big hand giveth, it can take away, and the state started cutting its VLT aid to the town of Saratoga Springs in 2008, and last year they cut it entirely. Saratoga, which also lost 10,000 jobs last year, can ill afford it.

On top of everything else, OTB, which owes NYRA millions, went bankrupt last year; though OTB continues to operate and make its legally-required payments to NYRA, the threat of closure still looms. If OTB stopped sending in payments, it would be disastrous for the racetracks.

While we expect of all entities doing business with the state a certain amount of wolf-crying, this looks bad for the association and the thousands of people who, directly or indirectly, make their money off the business. Jersey racetracks like Meadowlands have already increased their purses in order to steal a march on their New York competition. Once the money starts to flow the wrong way, it might take a while to reverse the tide.

Racing people are planning to rally in Albany, but they understandably seem not to expect Albany to pay attention. “I don’t know if anything short of chaining yourself to the wheels of the governor’s car is going to get any attention,” one trainer told the Albany Times-Union.

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