New York Budget Stalemate May Shutter Tracks

New York Budget Stalemate May Shutter Tracks
Photo: Tom Cooley Photography
Finger Lakes is one of the tracks that would be affected immediately by a June 15 shutdown.

Racetracks in New York state are being told they might have to shut down June 15 if a budget stalemate at the state capitol is not resolved.

The possible shutdown of state government, unprecedented in New York history, would also possibly affect casino operations at racetracks in the state. The state lottery, officials say, is also poised to be suspended if the shutdown occurs, though some officials believe it could continue for a few days beyond the fiscal doomsday scenario June 15. The lottery agency runs the racetrack casino program in the state.

At issue is a battle in the state Senate over whether to approve the scheduled 11th emergency appropriation bill since the fiscal year began April 1 without an adopted budget in place. One member of the Democratic-controlled Senate is threatening to vote against the emergency bill. It takes 32 votes to pass a bill, and the Democrats have 32 members in the Senate. Republicans, who would have to supply at least one vote if the impasse does occur June 14, have not said how they will vote on the appropriation bill.

“Hopefully, this is not going to happen. The governor is doing everything he can to prevent this from happening,’’ said Joseph Mahoney, a spokesman for the state Racing and Wagering Board.

If there is no budget agreement when lawmakers return June 14, Gov. David Paterson has ordered state agencies to close at 12:01 a.m. June 15. Live racing would have to be canceled because the state workers who serve as stewards and perform such services as equine drug testing, would not be at work if the shutdown happens.

It is uncertain if tracks remain open to take bets in their parlors on out-of-state racing. “Our understanding is if tracks want to stay open without racing they can offer simulcasting, but there is still research being done on that issue,’’ Mahoney said.

The New York Racing Association has a dark day June 15, but Mahoney said a shutdown that day would immediately affect Yonkers, Finger Lakes, and Monticello racetracks. “We told our staff to monitor the news. This may remain undecided until Monday,’’ Mahoney said.

The state’s off-track betting corporations would remain open, the racing board said, because those employees are not state workers. New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., the nation’s largest OTB, will remain open even though it is owned by the state. The state comptroller, unlike the other agencies affected, does not issue paychecks to NYCOTB employees; the OTB has its own payroll.

A government shutdown would also keep racing regulators from their posts at the state’s Indian casinos, but Mahoney said the casinos could remain open. The state police also has a presence at the Indian facilities, though officials have said they would not be affected by a shutdown order.

Officials and lawmakers are mixed about how seriously to take the shutdown threat in what has become a mix of intra- and inter-party squabbling between the Democrats and Republicans. Negotiations are continuing over the weekend in advance of lawmakers returning to the capitol June 14 for the all-important vote.

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