Federal Policy Shift of Concern in New York

A change in federal policy may impact New York horse racing.

The racing industry in New York expressed concerns about new, potent competition after the Obama administration reversed course on federal policy that had blocked Indian tribes from building off-reservation casinos.

The decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior raises new possibilities for long-stalled Indian-owned casinos in the Catskill Mountains resort region of New York. Such full-fledged casinos have long been seen as a direct threat to the state’s racing industry, including relatively new video lottery terminal-only facilities.

The former Bush administration had a policy on the books that kept Native American tribes from developing casinos far from their home reservations. A number of tribes over the years sought to place casino complexes in the Catskills, an economically struggling region of New York.

The Obama administration June 14 called the 2008 federal policy “unnecessary."

James Featherstonhaugh, a lobbyist and president of the New York Gaming Association, which represents VLT operators in the state, called the new Interior interpretation “not helpful to the industry or the state."

“This is not fair to existing gaming facilities that have invested billions of dollars in New York and are proud of contributing significant revenues to education – more than $520 million last year alone," he said.

The change in federal policy comes as private developers plan later this summer to open a VLT casino at Aqueduct.