New York Horsemen Say ‘Neigh’ To Proposal To End Purse Supplements

New bill echoes similar efforts in Pennsylvania and other states
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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.

“The state has been propping up this industry for decades and there is no reason for that to continue, especially when we need the money the state has been giving to the industry,” Rosenthal recently told the Albany Times-Union.

A modest portion of slot machine revenues still would go to agricultural grants, to funding adoption of horses, and for support of economic development in the communities that host horse racing facilities. The direct payments to tracks and to breeders, however, would be eliminated.

“It is absolutely absurd and unfair that the racing business alone has received billions when more than 1 million businesses in New York with far more jobs and much greater economic impact receive no subsidies,” said Edita Birnkrant, whose animal rights group, NYCLASS, is designed to protect New York City’s carriage horses.

This is not the first bill aimed at ending the racing purse supplements. In 2020, another New York City Democrat, state Sen. Jessica Ramos of Queens, introduced a bill that “provides that certain funds wagered on video lottery gaming shall be utilized for the purpose of funding capital expenditures of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.”

That bill, however, has languished in Addabbo’s committee.

Push to end supplements extends to other states

The latest effort in New York is similar to one in Pennsylvania, where Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf earlier this year proposed diverting purse supplement funds of a similar amount to higher education. But for the second straight year, the plan was never weighed seriously in the legislature before it passed a final budget.

“It is hard to fathom why the Wolf administration would once again put forward a fundamentally flawed proposal that was widely dismissed and failed to gain any meaningful support last year in the legislature,” Pete Peterson, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition, told The Bloodhorse. “This proposal would result in the end of horse racing, which supports 20,000 jobs, delivers an annual $1.6 billion economic impact, and preserves hundreds of thousands of acres of open space.”

Four years ago, Wolf signed into law a bill specifying that the Race Horse Development Trust Fund “are not funds of the Commonwealth” and that “the Commonwealth shall not be rightfully entitled” to the funds. And just two years ago, New Jersey lawmakers went in the opposite direction, directing that the state send $20 million, or about 10% of the funds that go to horse racing purses in neighboring states, to horsemen to help them remain competitive in the industry.

Photo: Shutterstock

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