Potential Bailout Plan for Finger Lakes to Be Discussed

Potential Bailout Plan for Finger Lakes to Be Discussed
Photo: Courtesy of Finger Lakes
Finger Lakes scene

With the opening of a new nearby casino already eating into racino revenues at Finger Lakes Racetrack in upstate New York, the horsemen's group at the track and state officials have stepped up negotiations to avoid what owners and trainers say could be the closure of the track.

The racino operation at Finger Lakes, which has been a vital lifeline for purses and track operations in recent years, saw revenues of $2 million in the most recent weekly reporting period through Feb. 11. That is down from $2.6 to $2.4 million a week in video lottery terminal revenues from comparable weekly periods a year ago, according to filings made by the track with the state gaming commission.

The numbers come as the Finger Lakes Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association is expected later Feb. 17 to have a potentially key telephone conference with officials from the governor's administration in Albany. The sides have been discussing a potential bailout plan to deal with cannibalization in Finger Lakes racino revenues at the hands of del Lago Resort & Casino, which opened Feb. 1 and is located 29 miles from the track.

The horsemen have yet to sign a 2017 racing contract with Finger Lakes, though the sides expect any possible deal that might drive money to purses to include a reduction in the number of race dates at the upstate Thoroughbred track located south of Rochester. Last year, the track had 155 race dates, down eight days from the previous year, accord to David Brown, president of the horsemen's group.

Brown predicted the decline in Finger Lakes' VLT revenues since the del Lago casino opened this month will worsen as the weather improves in the snowy upstate region later this spring. "I think you're going to see a much bigger falloff once everything is nice out and they get their hotel open,'' Brown said of del Lago. 

Brown said talks with administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo have intensified the past six weeks. The horsemen's group has said racing at Finger Lakes will not survive the new competition from del Lago and the resulting loss of purse revenue-sharing payments from VLT operations at the racetrack.

"We're having ongoing discussions with the governor's office and a meeting is planned for today,'' Brown said this afternoon.

The new del Lago casino, located just off a thruway exit between Rochester and Syracuse, saw $37 million in total wagering in its first seven days of operation earlier this month. Gross revenues totaled $3.3 million that week, with $3 million of that coming from its 2,001 slot machines. Those slots produced an initial daily win-per-unit of $252. In its second week of operation ending Feb. 12, wagers totaled $31.1 million and revenues were at $3 million with the slots' win-per-unit falling to $152 a day. The casino, unlike Finger Lakes, offers both real slot machines and table games, such as poker.

At the Finger Lakes racino operation, which has 1,540 slot-like devices known as video lottery terminals, VLT revenues fell to $2 million for the week ending Feb. 11, which is down $200,000 from the period a week before del Lago opened. A year ago, in the week ending Feb. 6, 2016, Finger Lakes racino revenues were at $2.6 million. Its most recent daily win-per-unit of $186 is down from a fiscal year average of $223 per machine and off from $241 from the same weekly period a year ago.

How a bailout at Finger Lakes might be structured—such as the financial contributions that might be made by the state or del Lago or Finger Lakes' owner Delaware North Cos., or all three—is uncertain.

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