What most NY citizens do not know, by design, is that Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs), or slots, directly subsidize the state’s racing industry. Here’s how it works: As a condition for securing VLT licenses, track owners are required to continue running horseraces, whether profitable or not. But more importantly, a sizable chunk of slots revenue is funneled into the racing industry – higher purses, breeding supplements. If not for this largess, much of NY racing, especially the harness variety, would have vanished by now. In general, racing can no longer subsist on product alone, as evidenced by declining handle and attendance.
Currently, 9 of the 11 NY racetracks are set up as racinos – racing plus VLT gaming. (Although Saratoga and Belmont are not racinos, they, being under the NYRA banner, still benefit from Aqueduct’s.) But with four brand-new full-service casinos on the horizon, the horse people are justifiably worried. Even though the law requires new casinos to continue subsidizing horsemen, any casino built on a non-racetrack site will be sending less than what is currently gifted. That, coupled with a virtual certainty that casinos (up to seven have been approved) will obliterate one-dimensional racinos, explains the hand-wringing.
(News that the owners of Saratoga Casino and Raceway are looking elsewhere to open a casino – Rensselaer County, Orange County – prompted this response from Betty Holt, executive director of Harness Horse Breeders of New York State (Times Union): “I hear a lot of people saying this is the beginning of the end for us.”)
At some point, the ball will be securely back in the Legislature’s court. Its two options: continue propping an increasingly irrelevant industry or act in accordance with one of our founding economic principles and allow the market to be what it will be. If the latter, the good bet is that all nine racino racetracks in NYS – the seven harness plus Aqueduct and Finger Lakes – will become but a memory. Imagine that.