Day At The Track

Statement from Monticello Harness Horsemen's Association

05:08 AM 19 Feb 2014 NZDT
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Alan Schwartz, President of the Monticello Harness Horsemen's Association, today issued a final statement explaining the horsemen's position on New York State's recently enacted casino enabling legislation in response to statements from Monticello Casino & Raceway management regarding negotiations:

"The negotiations currently taking place between the horsemen and management at Monticello Casino & Raceway are about nothing less than the very future of a racing and agriculture industry in New York State that employs more than 32,000 New Yorkers and is central to the economy of many of our towns and counties. While Monticello management is absolutely correct in stating that we don't like the casino enabling legislation passed last year, they are mistaken in suggesting that we are somehow "attempting to amend the law" through our negotiations with them. All we are doing with Monticello is seeking to secure a contract between two private entities that acknowledges the value and role of our industry and allows it to grow and succeed along with Monticello, should they be granted a full casino license. And while we have had to make some very difficult decisions during these negotiations, the stakes for the future of our game are high and demand that we do the right thing for racing and for our members.

The fact is that the majority of New York's harness horsemen did not support the casino enabling legislation because while it did include a "floor" on payments to horsemen from racinos that receive full gaming licenses, it also included a hard "cap" on industry support payments at the 2013 level - regardless of how well the expanded, full casino does or how much revenue they generate or profit they make.

This "cap" on racing payments will essentially serve as a hard cap on any future additional growth in racing and agriculture and will send a message to potential investors that while New York may be doing well now, it is closed for future business and has no horse breeding or racing growth investment opportunities available moving forward. Other competing racing states have recognized this basic truth - and understand that racing and breeding should grow right along with casino gaming where both on and off track casinos are sited - and so therefore have mandated additional payments from full casino gaming to racing. That is why New York horsemen are continuing to advocate in Albany for amendments to this aspect of the enabling legislation.

In the meantime, and separate from these ongoing efforts in Albany, our Monticello horsemen have simply proposed - as part of a contract negotiation between two private entities - that Monticello make some level of additional payments from their own revenues/vendor's fees to racing, should they be granted a full casino gaming license. As noted above, while our purses now have a hard cap imposed on them, the Monticello Casino will have no similar cap imposed on their revenues or their profits, and so we are simply seeking a reasonable opportunity to continue to grow the agricultural/farming and racing industry and work together to succeed right along with them as we had when we partnered with the tracks to start a VLT program in NY..

In terms of context and precedent for such a "shared success" approach, it seems that Monticello management has completely forgotten about the horsemen's decision at the outset of the VLT initiative more than a decade ago to accept - as part of a negotiated contract - purse payments which were, in fact, lower than the VLT law at the time mandated. Recognizing that horsemen and management should work together and that our successes were mutually entwined, we took lower percentages than the law granted us at tracks such as Monticello, Vernon and Yonkers - and allowed them to keep more of the revenue - in order to ensure that the VLT initiative would work and that "all boats would rise together."

Therefore, management's recent statements that hide behind this new casino enacting legislation - "hey, it's not us, it's the law that sets their payments" - conveniently ignores this history and the fact that the track can negotiate any additional payments to racing that they want in order to ensure continued, mutual, shared success, just like the horsemen did for them in leaner times. If they aren't interested in such shared success, and don't care about the future of agriculture and racing in New York, that's absolutely their prerogative and they can continue to espouse that position at the negotiating table. However, we will continue to stand up for what's right for horsemen, agriculture, racing and the state's larger economy and we simply hope that Monticello management will at least be honest about their so-called "good faith" negotiating position moving forward."



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