Agreement finalized to preserve live racing at Finger Lakes

By: Tom LaMarra

March 16, 2017

A two-year agreement to preserve live racing at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack—a critical component of the New York Thoroughbred breeding program—has been finalized by all parties, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced March 16.

The agreement funnels money from multiple sources to Finger Lakes to support purses, which are expected to take a hit because of competition from a nearby full-scale resort casino that recently opened. Finger Lakes, owned by Delaware North Companies, has video lottery terminals that help fund the purse account.

Purses will be maintained at 2016 levels during a 145-day season from April 22 through Nov. 28. A release from the governor’s office said the average purse per race in 2017 and 2018 will be $13,690, up from $13,224 last year.

The training track opened March 13 and will remain available through early December.

Finger Lakes plays an important role in New York racing in that it provides options for horses—many of them are bred in New York—that can’t compete at the three New York Racing Association tracks. Delaware North as part of the agreement also agreed to explore what economic development funds may be available for racing surfaces; the New York Thoroughbred Breeders has long advocated for Finger Lakes to install a turf course.

“Governor Cuomo has put together a plan that protects an industry critical to New York State,” NYTB Executive Director Jeff Cannizzo said. “Thoroughbred breeders are a major component of the state’s agricultural sector, and this ensures the continued operation of one of our most essential platforms.

“Statistics tell the story. In 2016, New York-breds were responsible for 73% of the total starts at Finger Lakes and earned 76% of all purse money distributed, winning 73% of the 1,330 races run. Finger Lakes is imperative for breeders, and the governor’s plan ensures its continuation.”

“Without this timely agreement, the entire 2017 racing season was put in jeopardy as was the livelihoods of the 1,200 families that rely on us for their financial well-being,” said Dave Brown, President of the Finger Lakes National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “We are grateful to Gov. Cuomo and his staff for their time and effort in resolving this issue, as well as our local legislators who supported us throughout this process.”

The New York State Gaming Commission March 16 endorsed the agreement, which includes an option to extend through 2018. The objective is to continually review developments at Finger Lakes and the area gaming market to develop a long-term plan.

Delaware North will commit $600,000-$1 million to purses depending on VLT performance, and horsemen agreed to guarantee an average number of horses per race. The new casino, called del Lago, will provide about $440,000 a year to purses based on the projected payment it would have been required to make to Tioga Downs, a Southern Tier harness track that was granted a full casino license. The New York Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund will provide “purse enrichment monies” in return for Delaware North pursuing racing surface improvements.

“Gov. Cuomo’s agreement provides Finger Lakes with the stability needed in the midst of an evolving gaming landscape,” said Chris Riegle, President and General Manager of Finger Lakes. “This partnership means that we are all invested in ensuring the track maintains its storied place in the region.”

Cuomo said the agreement would protect about 1,200 jobs and the local agriculture industry in upstate New York.

(Photo courtesy of Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack)