Delays aside, Finger Lakes Racetrack plans to begin its 162-day season on April 18, though the track's owners and horsemen continue to have their focus on an elusive goal: video lottery terminals.
The state Racing and Wagering Board this week approved the 2003 racing schedule for the track, located near Rochester. The backing came after two false starts because of a dispute within the ranks of the 550-member Finger Lakes Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Some of the group's board members had wanted to delay approval of a 2003 contract with the track until it became clearer what the state might do about the long-stalled VLT program for New York tracks.
The VLT issue is mired in unresolved state budget talks between Gov. George Pataki and lawmakers. VLTs are legal in the state under a 2001 law, though it is being challenged in court. Tracks, meanwhile, claim the law is a money-loser for them, and they have not started any of the devices, holding out for a larger split of the money.
"We were hoping and planning for VLTs,'' said Chris Riegle, general manager at Finger Lakes. "The sad part is that this is the first season that we could have been up and running with the machines...but now it will be a declining business year instead of a growth year.''
Paul Steckel, president of the horsemen's group, did not return calls for comment. He had criticized some horsemen's efforts, saying it was "not a real good reason'' to hold up the contract with the track while awaiting VLT developments because no one knows when Albany might act on a new plan.
The track's racing dates are April 18 until November 29. Without VLTs, track officials say purses will fall $300 per race this season. "It's just a continued erosion of business,'' Riegle said.