Preparations are underway now for the new racing season, says a director at Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack
Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, said Monday he expects negotiations involving the future of Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack to be resolved in a week to 10 days.
“It is moving forward. There is progress,” said Kolb, whose district includes Ontario and Seneca counties.
At issue is competition from the newly opened del Lago Resort and Casino in Seneca County, which is expected to suck revenue from FLGR in Ontario County. Thoroughbred racing at Finger Lakes relies on a percentage of FLGR gaming revenue. Legislation allowing commercial casinos back in 2013 provided protections for race tracks. But Finger Lakes was left out of a zone that would have forced del Lago to guarantee purses at the track.
Though not directly involved in the negotiations, Kolb is advocating for a positive resolution and staying on top of developments. “They know where I am coming from,” he said.
Calling it “a “collective effort,” Kolb said, “They are feverishly working toward a resolution.”
“We continue to actively participate in ongoing discussions with the state, local horsemen and others towards a solution that will allow for the start of the 2017 racing season this spring,” FLGR’s Regional Director of Marketing Steve Martin stated in an email Monday. “At the same time, we are moving forward by soliciting racing stall applications from the horsemen for the season and are currently preparing our racing facilities in anticipation of their return.”
The FLGR track in Farmington that opened in 1962 employs more than 1,000 people, with many more jobs affected from farms and businesses that provide goods and services and involve housing, training, breeding and care of hundreds of thoroughbred horses.
David Brown, president of the Finger Lakes Horsemen Benevolent Protective Association, said a number of meetings have taken place recently in Albany that involve representatives from the governor’s office, the Gaming Commission, FLGR parent company Delaware North and others. With still no start date for 2017 racing season, Brown referred to the situation as “crisis management.”
About 800 horses are housed locally and need at least six weeks at the track to get ready for racing, Brown said. A contract is needed by March 1 to meet an opening day of April 17 or April 24, he said. The length of the season has dropped in recent years from more than 160 days to 155. It is not ideal, Brown said, “But we are willing to negotiate.”
Last week, state Sen. Rich Funke, R-Perinton — whose district includes towns in Ontario and Monroe counties — proposed legislation that would give $3 million to save the racetrack, "to ensure neither Finger Lakes nor the new casino are punished under state law and are each able to protect the thousands of jobs they employ,” Funke stated. Funke said the $3 million would cover a year of funding and allow leaders to study the real impact of del Lago on Finger Lakes' revenues.
Brown said he appreciated the proposal, but doesn’t see it going anywhere with no matching bill in the Assembly.
“It sounds good,” said Kolb. “But the state is not coming up with a check for 3 million dollars.”
The $440 million de Lago Resort that opened Feb. 1 is projected to bring in 3.2 million visitors annually. The 24-hour Las Vegas-style casino is expected to generate $260 million in gross gaming revenue; $68 million in gaming taxes to New York state; and $3.4 million each to the town of Tyre and Seneca County.
When asked at the del Lago opening about the anticipated impact on FLGR, del Lago co-chairman Thomas C. Wilmot Sr. said “competition is a good thing.”
Wilmot added that market studies showed del Lago would take about 20 percent of Finger Lakes video lottery terminal business. Even so, Wilmot indicated he expected Finger Lakes to do well.