by Karen M. Johnson
The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association released a statement Jan. 10 urging the state to address issues of importance to the 6,000 members of its group as negotiations continue on the long-term extension of the New York Racing Association franchise.
“Sen. (Joseph) Bruno has been a supporter of the Thoroughbred industry for a long time,” New York THA president Rick Violette said in the statement. “He understands that purses drive our industry, and what is good for the horsemen is good for his constituents. A healthy horse industry means a healthy Saratoga.”
Bruno, the Senate Majority Leader, has been vocal in his disapproval of parts of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposed plan to award NYRA a 30-year franchise extension. Bruno has been adamant about granting a franchise shorter in length, possibly making changes to NYRA’s current board of directors, and giving management of Aqueduct’s yet-to-be opened video lottery terminal operation to an entity other than NYRA.
The New York THA statement reads, in part: “We have had ongoing discussions with the staffs of Gov. Spitzer, Speaker (Sheldon) Silver, and Majority Leader Bruno regarding issues of importance to horsemen. We are particularly appreciative of Sen. Joseph Bruno for recognizing the important contribution that horsemen make to the racing industry by insisting that protections for horsemen and an equitable share of VLT revenues for purses be included in the award of the franchise and any underlying reform legislation.”
Of utmost importance to the New York THA, which is supportive of NYRA receiving the franchise, is the equitable distribution of VLT revenue to horsemen through purses. Originally, the legislature stated, revenue from VLTs at Aqueduct would be 7.5% for the first three years, 7.75% in years four and five, and 10% thereafter.
The most recent memorandum of understanding between the state and NYRA reduces revenue to purses of not more than 6.5%, according to the horsemen’s statement. The New York THA board of directors said if a rumor circulating that the state is contemplating reducing the amount even further comes to fruition, it would be highly detrimental to horsemen.
Another concern voiced by the New York THA is that its organization is the only horsemen’s group in the country not protected by the federal Interstate Horseracing Act, which means NYRA is not obligated to negotiate with, and secure simulcast and other approvals from, horsemen who conduct their business at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga.
“There is no rational, reasonable, or ethical reason that the New York horsemen racing at the NYRA racetracks should not have the same rights as every other horsemen’s group in the country,” Violette said.