Finger Lakes, Horsemen Expected to OK Contract

The horsemen's group at Finger Lakes Racetrack in New York will back a new contract to ensure the track is running by its scheduled April 18 opening, the head of the organization said Feb. 28.

Paul Steckel, president of the 550-member Finger Lakes Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said the group probably would approve a new contract the week of March 3. The delay in signing a new contract has twice forced the New York State Racing and Wagering Board to postpone approval of the track's 2003 license for live racing because state law requires a horsemen's contract to be in place for such licenses.

Steckel insisted no major disputes held up the contract. Instead, he said, some board members of the horsemen's group wanted to delay approval until it became clearer what state officials had in mind for the state's long-delayed video lottery terminal program.

The state in December 2001 approved VLTs for most tracks, but no devices have been installed because track officials claim the program would be a money-loser for them. A number of proposals have been floated to remedy the VLT dispute, but it could be months before the situation is resolved.

Steckel said it was "not a real good reason"' to hold up the horsemen's contract considering no one knows if or when the VLT situation will become clearer. Steckel said VLTs are desperately needed at the western New York track. "We're looking for a miracle," he said.

Steckel said track revenues are falling, and the decrease will force a $300-per-race drop in purses for the upcoming season. He said, for instance, purses for bottom claiming levels would fall from $5,800 to $5,500.

"The costs of running our business...are all going up while the purse earnings are going down," he said.

Track officials could not be reached for comment. Finger Lakes is scheduled to race 162 days this year.