New York State’s horse racing tracks have thrived for the past decade under a system that diverts a sliver of slot-machine revenue from adjoining facilities to supplement racing purses. But a new bill introduced by a pair of New York City lawmakers would take most of that $230 million in annual supplements away from the state’s tracks and send it to education and social services.
Horsemen have reacted swiftly to the potential existential threat to their business.
“NYRA will vigorously oppose this legislation in order to protect jobs for working families, preserve the horse racing economy and ensure the sport’s success now and in the future,” Patrick McKenna, a spokesman for the New York Racing Association — which operates Saratoga Race Course, Aqueduct Race Track, and Belmont Park — said in a statement. “Racing support payments are not subsidies. The payments from [slot-machine] revenues are made to the thoroughbred industry in part because NYRA transferred land and other intellectual property to the state in 2008, and has acted as the steward of the properties in the years since.
“Organizations like NYCLASS, PETA, and Horseracing Wrongs have long been philosophically opposed to horse racing and make no secret of their desire to end the sport,” McKenna added. “This extreme agenda would deprive working families of jobs and opportunity and would negatively impact union and hourly workers at the worst possible time.”
Horse racing in New York has an estimated $3 billion in economic impact while creating thousands of jobs, said Najja Thompson, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders. State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. of Queens, chairman of the committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, is a longtime supporter of the supplements.
Time for a change?
As McKenna noted, the Democratic-sponsored legislation — by state Sen. Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan — is backed by animal rights groups and social service nonprofits.