02/28/2017 2:58PM

Finger Lakes, horsemen reach agreement on race meet

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Finger Lakes racetrack and its horsemen have reached a one-year deal that will clear the way for a 145-day live race meet this year starting on April 22, officials for the two sides said on Tuesday, but uncertainty over the long-term future of the track continues to loom.

The agreement, which was hashed out Monday night after several months of tension between the track and the horsemen, will pare 10 live racing days from the 2016 schedule and could eliminate a race from each card depending on how the Finger Lakes casino performs over the year. Revenues from the casino provide subsidies to purses at the track, and this month a competing casino opened approximately 30 miles from Finger Lakes, potentially jeopardizing the revenues from the track’s casino.

Management at Finger Lakes had been pressing horsemen to accept cuts to the live racing schedule because of estimates that the casino would lose 30 percent of its business in the wake of the competition from del Lago Resort & Casino. Earlier this year, the track had insisted that racing dates be cut to 100, but horsemen balked at trimming that many days, and for a time early this year the horsemen’s group blocked simulcasting at the track over its dissatisfaction with the offer.

“All parties involved worked hard and productively over a long period of time toward a reasonable solution that most importantly provides assurance for close to 1,000 people who depend directly on the local racing industry for their livelihood,” said Christian Riegle, the president of Finger Lakes, in a statement.

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David Brown, the president of the Finger Lakes Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said on Tuesday that horsemen felt it was necessary to reach a deal despite the cuts in racing opportunities so that trainers could get back to work.

“I have trainers here in the local community and their whole lives depend on making income from racing horses at Finger Lakes,” Brown said. “Rather than draw a line in the sand over these issues, we decided we needed to get started and get some answers on how del Lago is going to impact everyone.”

Finger Lakes has committed to contributing $1 million toward purses during the 2017 season, but that amount will be cut to $600,000 if casino receipts drop by more than 30 percent, Brown said. Last year, the legislature passed a bill giving Delaware North, the Buffalo-based company that owns Finger Lakes, a tax break on its casino operations, citing the threat from the new casino. The del Lago casino will provide approximately $450,000 in funding for Finger Lakes purses in 2017, Brown said.

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo forwarded a proposal to the two sides seeking to resolve the conflict over race dates. The plan called for both Delaware North and the owners of del Lago to contribute to the purse funds, and it called for horsemen to accept cuts to both the number of racing dates and the number of races held per day.

Both Brown and Riegle said that Cuomo officials were involved in the negotiations to get the two sides to come to an agreement, and Brown said that the Cuomo administration plans to convene local racing and casino officials in August to determine the impact that the del Lago casino has had on the Finger Lakes racetrack and its casino. Brown also said that Cuomo officials have asked the track to explore the installation of a turf course at the track.

Although the racing contract is for one year, the commitments from the casinos to the purse account at Finger Lakes is for two years, Brown said. Those commitments could be adjusted as a result of the meetings later in the year, Brown said.

“We really don’t know right now how all of this is going to work out,” Brown said. “We’ll see as time goes on.”