12/21/2015 5:28PM

Emergency rule would raise New York workers' comp rates dramatically


Workers' compensation insurance rates to cover jockeys and exercise riders could increase dramatically at New York Thoroughbred tracks in 2016 unless the New York Gaming Commission approves a plan submitted Monday - more than a month after it was due - that could keep levels at 2015 rates.

Workers' compensation for jockeys and exercise riders is paid for by owners and trainers through the Jockey Injury Compensation Fund. The insurance is purchased through the New York State Insurance Fund.

At its monthly meeting on Monday, the gaming commission adopted an emergency rule that would charge trainers based at New York Racing Association tracks - Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga - $5.65 per stall per day toward workers' compensation insurance. That would be a whopping 276 percent increase over the $1.50 fee charged in 2015. For trainers based at Finger Lakes tracks, the daily per stall fee would go up to $2.12, or 286 percent, from the 55-cent fee paid in 2015.

Under these rates, a trainer at a NYRA track with a 20-stall allotment would pay $41,245 in stall fees for workers' comp in 2016, compared to $10,950 in 2015.

Additionally, trainers would have to pay $1,000 per incident that resulted in an injury, according to the gaming commission’s rule.

Owners would have to contribute 2 percent of purse money earned by a horse in race, capped by a maximum of $20,000 per race. In 2015, owners paid 1 percent of purse money earned until April 12 before the fee went up to 2 percent.

In 2015, owners and trainers also paid a base premium of $1,500 towards workers' comp. The emergency rules adopted Monday by the gaming commission did not specify any base premium in 2016.

The Gaming Commission adopted these emergency rules because the Jockey Injury Compensation Fund, for the second year in a row, did not submit a funding plan by Nov. 15 as is statutorily required. The fund did submit a plan to the gaming commission on Monday which would keep rates at 2015 levels.

“We submitted what the costs and the charges would be,” said Rick Violette, president of the Jockey Injury Compensation Fund, who declined to say if the fund is utilizing an outside company or the New York State Insurance Fund. “Everything is in place and the costs will emulate what it was this year. I have no idea where [the commission] came up with their numbers.”

Robert Williams, executive director of the gaming commission, acknowledged that the fund's plan submitted Monday was “markedly different in cost structure” than what horsemen would pay under the commission’s emergency rule. Williams said gaming commission staff would begin reviewing the  plan immediately.

“If approved it would supplant the actions being considered here today,” Williams said.

On Monday morning, trainers at Belmont Park were shocked when they learned their rates could increase so dramatically.

“It’s crazy,” said trainer Gary Gullo, who has 36 stalls at Belmont. “How much more can they keep charging? They’re going to charge you right out of business.”

“I’d rather deal with the mob than the New York State Insurance Fund,” trainer Bruce Levine said.

At Monday’s gaming commission meeting, casino licenses were awarded to three companies who were chosen last December to run casinos in upstate New York. Capital Region Gaming will open up Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady; Lago Resort & Casino received a license to open a casino in Seneca County; and Montreign Operating Company was granted a license to open a casino in Sullivan County.

In other racing-related items:

* A rule that requires the reporting of first-time geldings was formally adopted. The rule, first proposed in March, requires horsemen based at New York tracks to report to the racing secretary within 72 hours of when a horse is gelded. Horsemen stabled off the grounds must report a new gelding at the time of entry.

This rule has been in practice at NYRA tracks for the better part of a year.

* The gaming commission deferred discussion on public comments made regarding new medication rules proposed by the commission as a result of its investigation of trainer Steve Asmussen.

The investigation was based on allegations made by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals.

In November, the commission fined Asmussen $10,000 basically for improper use of a thyroid supplement.