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Horsemen appeal to legislature; No race track at the casino?

The horsemen at Monticello Raceway are locked in a battle with management over revenue.
Contributed photo

By Fritz Mayer
March 25, 2014

MONTICELLO, NY — Horsemen and their supporters filled the room at the meeting of the Sullivan County Legislature on March 20 to sound off about their ongoing dispute with management of Monticello Raceway. At issue is the amount of casino revenue, if any, the horsemen will receive if Empire Resorts, which owns the raceway, and its partners receive a license to open a casino at the site of the former Concord Hotel.

Alan Schwartz, president of Monticello Harness Horsemens Association, took to the podium and said, “We believe that Empire Resorts is doing its best to eliminate horse racing in Monticello. We believe they don’t want a racetrack; they don’t want us there.”

He noted that there was no racetrack mentioned when plans for the proposed casino resort, called Adelaar, were unveiled at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on March 13.

At the heart of the dispute is a provision of the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act, which says that purses for racetracks at casinos may not rise beyond the level achieved in 2013, which according to various sources was not a good year.

Schwartz recounted some of the measures that have been taken during the dispute. He said because Empire Management would not negotiate the matter of the horsemen sharing some of the casino revenue, they pulled the plug on the simulcast of the races outside of New York State, which reportedly resulted in a significant drop in revenue for both sides.

Schwartz said, “In retribution, they closed our main track on Friday, Saturdays, and Sundays so we couldn’t train our horses, although we did get that reopened through the racing and wagering board. They closed the track kitchen, they took away our coffee and sandwiches so we have to starve when we’re in the paddock on race days. They took legal action to evict the Horsemens Association Office from the raceway property.”

Two other people associated with the horsemen spoke, and three members of the community spoke in their favor.

Legislator Cindy Geiger said that it was her understanding that the county legislature does not have the ability to negotiate any agreements with the type of non-Indian casinos of the sort that might open at the site of the former Concord Hotel. But she said she would look into it because “if there is a way for the legislature to address some of these issues, I think we should be taking a lead on that.”

Legislator Kitty Vetter said she was surprised to learn that moving the track was no longer part of the plan. She said, “Hopefully, the casino applicant will go back to the drawing board.”