01/11/2017 4:30PM

Finger Lakes horsemen give temporary approval to simulcasting

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The board of directors of the Finger Lakes Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association has given Delaware North, the operators of the racino, permission to resume simulcast wagering as of Thursday.

The HBPA withdrew its permission for Finger Lakes to simulcast starting Jan. 1, as the two sides are far apart on a contract agreement regarding racing dates and purses for 2017, according to David Brown, president of the local HBPA.

“Sometimes in past years our contract negotiations would stretch into mid-January, but we were basically working out relatively minor points,” Brown said. “This year, we are discussing whether racing will exist here at all. The 100-day meet that Delaware North is talking about is not a long enough season for our horsemen.”

Brown said that the HBPA has given simulcast permission until Feb. 4 and that if progress has not been made in the negotiations by then, the HBPA can stop the simulcasts again.

“We reinstated the right to conduct simulcast betting as an act of good faith, so that negotiations will resume and move forward,” Brown said.

Brown said that Finger Lakes is unique in that 90 percent to 95 percent of the horsemen who race at the track are small farms or families who live in the surrounding community and keep their horses stabled locally between race meets.

“That’s why a short meet will not work here,” Brown said. “Our purses are low to begin with, and when there is no race meet, there are no purses or revenue, only expenses. We need a longer season to give the smaller outfits, which is just about everybody, time to make enough starts during the season. The distance from the closing of the meet to the opening of the meet is crucial for our people.”

Finger Lakes raced 155 days in 2016.

Racing at Finger Lakes is in jeopardy because of the new Del Lago Resort and Casino, located 27 miles away, which is scheduled to open Feb. 1. Del Lago is expected to reduce business at the Finger Lakes casino markedly, and while Delaware North has been given a tax break by the state to make up for lost revenue, the Finger Lakes horsemen’s purse account does not stand to receive any additional revenue from Del Lago, Delaware North, or the state.

The purse account receives 8.75 percent of gaming revenue from the Finger Lakes casino, and that amount is expected to drop by more than a third after Del Lago opens.

Del Lago does not have to contribute to the purse account at Finger Lakers because it is in a different New York state gambling zone. Although Del Lago is much closer to Finger Lakes than it is to Tioga Raceway, which is 85 miles from Del Lago, Tioga and Del Lago are considered to be in the same zone.

The owner of Tioga, Jeff Gural, has notified Del Lago that his track does not need the casino to subsidize purses, according to Brown. As it stands now, when Del Lago opens it will be the only casino in New York that does not subsidize the purses of a racetrack.

“If nobody comes to rescue us with purse money or revenue, I don’t think we can run here,” Brown said. “We might be able to for one year, but certainly not two.”