Suit Filed Against NY Harness Track Alleges Purses Were Diverted

A horsemen's group has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Monticello Raceway in New York, alleging the track pocketed at least $1.3 million over the past six years in funds that should have gone to purses.

The alleged diversion of funds to other track expenses is a violation of the contract between the track and the Monticello Harness Horsemen's Association, according to the group's lawyer, Richard Fulfree. He filed suit in U.S. District Court in White Plains.

Fulfree said the track offered to settle the dispute for $125,000. "They've offered us nothing in return,'' the Yonkers lawyer said.

The horsemen's contract calls for various revenue sharing arrangements between the track and purses from simulcasting and on-track betting. In its three-year contract, the horsemen have agreed to pay for expenses directly related to simulcasting expenses. But Fulfree said the track has, instead of putting money into purses, diverted money to pay for everything from security guards and supervisor salaries to coffee expenses at the track.

"Anything they can possibly think of they've been charging us,'' he said, "in order to cut our share of the revenues.'' He said, as a result, purses were lower than they should have been, cutting into payments to horsemen and making it harder to attract horses to race at the facility.

The track's president, Cliff Ehrlich, said he has "all the respect in the world for the horsemen,'' but he called the lawsuit "unfortunate.'' He said he offered to meet with the horsemen's board to resolve the matter. "They refused, and now we have a lengthy and expensive lawsuit and I find that unfortunate,'' he said.''

But Fulfree said there have already been meetings on the matter. "Every time they've met with us it's been a waste of time. There have been threats of closing the track or the barn area. After a while, you just get sick of the threats,'' he said. Fulfree said the track's owners are more interested in getting a video lottery terminal running at the facility than taking care of its horse operation. "They've let everything else run down,'' he said.

The track has been on the sales market for a year, and Ehrlich is pitching the 230-acre site that could house an Indian-owned casino, 1,800 VLTs and racing. He said there has been a number of interested parties in discussions with the investment bank handling what could either be a joint venture or sale.

Marvin Newberg, the track's lawyer, was not immediately available for comment.