New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to dip into purse accounts to take $1.5 million to $2 million per year for equine safety programs at the state's racetracks.
The proposal to "redirect" 1% of video lottery terminal purse enhancements was contained in the governor's 2013 state budget plan. Cuomo, in his written budget submission, said the money will go to programs proposed by the Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety, which was created following a rash of equine deaths at Aqueduct Racetrack last winter.
"Specific recommendations include hiring of an equine medical director, regulatory veterinarians and inspectors, computerizing test barns, making the drug-testing program more efficient, acquiring new and advanced testing equipment, and requiring necropsies to be performed at a veterinary diagnostic laboratory," according to a memo Cuomo's budget staff prepared to accompany the budget proposal.
The funding will be directed by the new state Gaming Commission, which is scheduled to become active as a new state department Feb. 1. It will take over the duties of the Department of Lottery and the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.
The budget bill memo values the 1% redirection of VLT revenue at $1.5 million, while the Gaming Commission budget plan calls for a $1.85 million budget for new equine safety programs. Not touched under the Cuomo proposal are proceeds the racetrack-based VLT casinos generate for breeding programs in New York.
At NYRA tracks, for instance, purses get 7% currently from the Aqueduct casino's VLT revenues.
According to Jeffrey Cannizzo, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders, the $1.5 million will come from the purse accounts of the state's nine different racetracks that receive VLT money.
"At the end of the day, that is roughly $450,000 from the purses held at NYRA," said Cannizzo.
Richard Violette Jr., president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said horsemen understand the new safety measures will cost money. "We're not shying away from any legitimate burden we have to share,'' he said.
"If the horsemen don't have a real issue with it, I don't have a real issue with it," said Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Westchester County Democrat who heads the Assembly Racing Committee. While Pretlow said he believes some media accounts of equine health issues in New York have been overstated, he noted: "Another 1% I really don't think will be a problem to ensure whatever safety precautions we can make for the horses."
But Pretlow said he is concerned about chatter that the New York Racing Association, which has been taken over by a board dominated by Cuomo appointees during a three-year state control period over the private racing company, is considering going to an artificial track surface.
"Horses get hurt more often that I can see on artificial tracks," Pretlow said. "Now if they want to use the money for that, I would have a problem with it."
(Equine Injury Database information from The Jockey Club shows the incidence of catastrophic breakdowns on synthetic surfaces in terms of number per 1,000 starts is less than it is on dirt surfaces.)
The proposal is subject to negotiations over the next couple of months on the overall state budget, which is due before the start of the next fiscal year April 1.
The governor's new budget also defines the areas of the state that he thinks should not be eligible for locations of the state's first three casinos under his gambling expansion proposal. State lawmakers, and possibly voters in the fall, are poised to consider approval of up to seven new casinos in the state to be located on non-Indian lands.
Cuomo's plan wants to limit the first three casinos upstate as an economic development tool; the first three would be banned from New York City, Long Island, and Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties. Where the other four might go is vague; Cuomo has said those questions are for the gambling industry to weigh in on during a bidding process that will be overseen by the Gaming Commission.
In addition, the Gaming Commission is being directed by Cuomo's budget proposal to prepare a report by May 15 on "the appropriate rates of taxation" of future casinos, as well as to provide recommendations "on clarifying and harmonizing inconsistent methods of treatment of various forms of gaming authorized in the state."
Cuomo has criticized the pari-mutuel takeout rate system at racetracks.