Group Seeking License for New York Racetrack

May be seeking foothold in state should expanded gambling be approved.

With New York's racetrack video lottery terminal operators looking to become full-blown casino destinations, a new player in the crowded market is asking regulators for the eighth and final harness racetrack license in the state.

The New York State Racing and Wagering Board Aug. 30 will consider an initial step that could eventually permit a new harness track in the town of Hastings in Oswego County, which is north of Syracuse.

The board's consideration, officials said, is for a certification of incorporation requested by Oswego Racing Inc. The group would need to meet other requirements before being able to obtain a license to conduct pari-mutuel racing.

The group of investors, which includes race car executive Glenn Donnelly, is proposing to build a $25 million harness facility, as well as a 2.2-mile dirt auto track, at a central New York site. The owners of the Vernon Downs racetrack casino said it would be located just 30 miles away from their operation.

New York law permits up to eight harness tracks; there are currently seven operating. The application with the NYSRWB calls for a half-mile harness track, the dirt track for auto racing, and any other "lawful activity." That would, presumably, include the eventual permission to operate a casino on the site.

Two other groups are looking to develop the state's eighth harness tracks in other areas of the state.

The Syracuse Post-Standard quoted Donnelly as saying his group hopes to create a state-of-the-art harness facility with an artificial track and racing for four months of the year in the spring and fall. Donnelly suggested the plan is not contingent upon getting a license for VLTs.

But Gary Greenberg, a minority owner of Vernon Downs, in an e-mail statement said the NYSRWB should stop the granting of any initial approval for harness groups until a new state gaming commission—which will which will regulate all forms of gambling in the state—is up and running early next year.

The incorporation application for Central New York Raceway Park, whose other partners identified in state documents include John Lehmann and Gregory Rigby, comes as New York officials are set next year to debate whether to expand casino development in the state on non-Indian lands. The state's racetrack operators and developers of other sites are already jockeying to try to get a piece of any gambling.

Racetracks currently are allowed only VLT devices; the plan next year calls for Las Vegas-style casinos with an array of table games now only currently allowed at five Native American-owned casinos in New York.