Issuing what he termed a "call to action to horsemen and all of the racing community," New York Racing Association president and chief executive officer Charles Hayward asked horsemen for their cooperation in lobbying Gov. George Pataki for immediate permission to install and operate 4,500 video lottery terminals that have been delayed at Aqueduct.
NYRA officials and horsemen discussed the situation during an Aug. 24 open meeting at Saratoga.
"I think there's a big misconception of where we are with VLTs, and the horsemen should be working with us to get this thing solved," said Hayward, who led the meeting with NYRA chairman Steven Duncker.
Hayward said a delay in the funding of the installation process, caused by a lien taken against Aqueduct by the Public Benefit Guarantee Corp. due to a holdup in NYRA pension payments, was resolved three months ago. According to Hayward, the financial backer for the VLT installation--MGM Mirage--is ready to provide immediate funding for the project, but the state's oversight board has yet to issue its approval.
Hayward said the delay costs horsemen $49 million in purses each year, or about $190,000 a day, while the state is losing $1.2 million in taxes per day.
"There was a law passed by the legislature and signed by the governor in June of 2005 stipulating that NYRA and MGM install and run these VLTs through 2007," Hayward said. "If the governor has a game plan now that is different, I think we're at least owed an explanation."
"If we thought that we were going to run NYRA going forward the way we've had to run it in the past, believe me, we'd say, 'No thank you,' " Duncker said. "The thing that changes this entire ballgame is the stream of revenue from the VLTs, because without that, the business of racing in this state is defunct."
Duncker also restated NYRA's position on the superiority of a non-profit management model for the New York racing franchise, touching on purse structure and average distribution and pointing out that NYRA tracks are among the top 10 in the nation by daily average purses, with Saratoga among the top two in recent years.
Hayward made similar statements during the Aug. 20 Jockey Club Round Table in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
"In New York, the non-profit model has always been the same as saying, 'We're broke,' but that's about to end here, thanks to VLTs," Duncker said. "Let's think about a NYRA that has a stream of revenue from the VLTs. This could be an unbelievable situation where New York could use the money for the betterment of racing. If these things get up and running, it's win, win, win. There are no losers."
Horsemen in attendance included trainers Richard Violette and Shug McGaughey and owners Terry Finley of West Point Stable and Felix Murphy of Say a Prayer Stable. Several horsemen, including Violette and Murphy, voiced their plans to meet with Pataki at Saratoga on Travers Stakes) gr. I weekend.
(Some of those present at the meeting have aligned themselves with Empire Racing Associates, which like NYRA is seeking the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga. The franchise expires Dec. 31, 2007.)
"I think NYRA will be able to get some of (Gov. Pataki's) time," Duncker said. "I know we're going to try, and if the horsemen will as well, we can come at this from both sides."
"Nobody wants VLTs more than the horsemen," said Richard Bomze, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "Every groom, jockey, hotwalker, trainer, and owner would benefit from this. We've lost hundreds of millions of dollars as an industry – just the horsemen – because of the delay."