By Saratoga Harness Horseperson's Association, Inc. | March 1, 2021

Part LL of Article VII of the Governor’s proposed budget is a devastating financial blow to the harness racing industry. Throughout the pandemic, Saratoga’s harness racing industry and the small businesses that support it have struggled with increased costs and decreased income. Part LL multiplies this problem by allowing Rivers Casino to abdicate its statutory responsibility of providing purse support payments to the Saratoga Harness Horseperson’s Association (SHHA). These payments are a key source of financial support for Saratoga’s harness industry.

Rivers has not paid its purse support payments since the beginning of 2020—two and a half months before the pandemic shut down businesses across the state.

In 2013 when New York sited four casinos upstate, the state also moved to support the harness racing industry by establishing purse support payments. These statutory purse payments (Racing, Pari-Mutual Wagering and Breeding Law Ch. 1355) were designed to offset the loss of income at the state’s harness tracks caused by the new casinos. These payments are sourced from revenues that casinos make from Video Lottery Terminals (VLT). The four upstate casinos–including Rivers Casino–have been required to make purse payments since their inception.

Rivers refusal to pay may cost SHHA members their health insurance.

Purse support payments are essential for the survival of the SHHA and its members. Among other costs, these funds pay for:

  • Mandatory state racing fees
  • Payment toward the Dept. of Environmental Conservation required program to remove manure from the back stretch
  • Minimum driver stipend paid to each driver for each race
  • Required program reimbursement fee for each live race card, and
  • $31,451.18 per month ($377,414 annually) for SHHA member health insurance.

The funds provide financial support for trainers, drivers, groomers and the small businesses that support Saratoga’s Harness industry. Once these direct payments are made, the remaining money is winnings what members race for. The lower the purse account, the less money there is to earn by our members.

Part LL would cripple the Association’s purse account and seriously harm the careers of the many workers in as well as the local small businesses that work with Saratoga’s racing industry. These small businesses include feed, grain and hay suppliers, veterinarians and blacksmiths.

Purse support payments reflect only a miniscule fraction of casino profits. Rivers Casino, which is owned by the Chicago-based Capital Region Gaming LLC, made good on its statutory obligation to SHHA until January 1, 2020. In 2019, Rivers provided 26%–$3,921,721–of the total VLT-related purse support to SHHA.

Why would the Governor’s budget proposal remove Capital Region Gaming’s financial obligation to SHHA and the racing community?

As it currently stands, Part LL of Section VII is a sweetheart deal for Rivers Casino. This shows clear favoritism towards a casino operated by an out-of-state corporation. To make matters worse, Rivers Casino has not made a purse payment since 2019, even though they have been open and operating at 68% capacity since September 2020.

Every other casino has been able to fulfill their obligation to their impacted horseman’s association. If it is passed, Part LL will essentially reward Rivers Casino for their negligence.

The harness racing industry was classified as “essential” in the pandemic because at its core, the business is concerned with taking care of animals. The expenses that our members are responsible for cannot be reduced, regardless of the revenue situation. The health and well-being of Saratoga harness track horses depend upon purse support from New York’s casinos. SHHA members will struggle to make ends meet if Rivers is allowed to duck out of the financial obligation they agreed to in 2013—and the horses may well become collateral damage.

If this handout for Rivers is passed, it will have a devastating effect on the Saratoga Harness Horseperson’s Association, and the greater harness racing industry in New York.

It is for these reasons that the Saratoga Harness Horseperson’s Association Inc. opposes the Governor’s budget proposal (Part LL of Article VII) to suspend Capital Region Gaming LLC’s obligation to make purse support payments and asks each house to strike it from their budget bills.