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Will NYRA Casino Revenues Last?

State officials have begun raising questions about the revenue-sharing split.

The New York Racing Association took in $22.1 million in gross revenues during the first three months of the year from its new Aqueduct casino.

But the question for NYRA is simple: will it last?

As the money begins flowing in earnest, state officials have begun raising questions about the revenue-sharing split, suggesting the state government might want a larger share of future proceeds either for its own budget purposes or possibly on marketing to try to draw in more racing patrons.

“It’s a lot of money spent on purses,” Robert Megna, the top fiscal advisor to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, told NYRA leaders this week at the state Capitol.

Megna, who is also chairman of a state board that oversees NYRA’s finances, discussed what he called a growing sum of money spent on an industry that continues to decline.

The state budget director has raised the purse question in past meetings with NYRA, and this week noted that the video lottery terminal money “is a precious resource.”

“People are incredibly focused on the purse piece,” Megna said.

NYRA president Charles Hayward responded that the harness industry has enjoyed growing purses for much the past decade and that NYRA has only begun to see purses grow with the opening last fall of the Genting New York casino at Aqueduct Racetrack. He also told Megna and his fellow oversight members that NYRA, thanks to the additional purses, is attracting trainers, owners, and jockeys--chiefly from Kentucky.

Of the $22.1 million in gross VLT revenues at Aqueduct in the first three months this year, NYRA said $10.6 million went to stakes and purses. Another $6.5 million went to capital expenditures and the remainder went to NYRA’s operating budget.

VLT revenues were about $1 million below projections because the expected $380 win per machine came in closer to $360 per machine.

Overall net wagering at NYRA was up 19%, or $3.9 million higher, than the same three months a year ago. NYRA attributed the performance to larger field sizes from bigger purses and additional races because of better weather this year.

Total handle in the first three months was $487.9 million, up 27% from a year ago. A NYRA document said explanations included seven additional race dates and an average field sizes growing to 7.4 horses from 7.1 horses a year ago.

Of the total $26.4 million paid in purses from January through March, $10.6 million came from VLT revenues. Capital improvements--totaling $2.2 million during the three months--included work on barn areas at Belmont and Saratoga and $207,000 on a master development plan for Saratoga.

NYRA said its export handle rose 28% to $352.3 million during the period, with increases led by more wagering from Elite, Monmouth Park, Twin Spires, TVG, Gulfstream Park, and XpressBet.

NYRA officials also told state regulators that the racing group had purchased 48 self-service betting machines at Aqueduct, in anticipation, a source said, of a possible job action later this year by labor unions at the track during what could be contentious contract negotiations.