Updated on 02/19/2016 12:23PM

Finger Lakes retains 155-day meet for 2016, thanks to proposed tax break


A tax break aimed at helping Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack cope with new casino competition less than 30 miles away and an agreement reached with local horsemen late last week will enable the western New York racetrack to retain its traditional 155-day meet in 2016.

Pending approval from the New York State Gaming Commission, Finger Lakes will race from April 16 until Nov. 30. As recently as December, Finger Lakes had threaten to shorten its season to 126 days.

Under a budget proposal from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Finger Lakes will  get tax parity with the new Lago casino being built a half-hour away in Seneca County.

Finger Lakes, which has about 1,700 employees, contends that 79 percent of its revenue goes to state-mandated payments, while Lago is slated to pay 37 percent on slot machines and 10 percent on table games — which Finger Lakes is barred from installing.

The proposed tax decrease for Finger Lakes will drop its overall tax rate on slot machine revenues to about 59 percent.

 “The governor's inclusion within his proposed budget of a reduced tax burden on Finger Lakes with the impending arrival of the Lago Resort and Casino located just 27 miles away in Tyre, allows us to look forward to successfully running a racing season of traditional length in 2016,” said Chris Riegle, Finger Lakes president and general manager. “It is a prime example of how this proposal will allow us the opportunity to more effectively compete with Lago, and more importantly, remain a viable economic engine in Ontario County by maintaining jobs and revenue for this region and the state overall."

Cuomo's proposed budget, however, does not address local horsemen’s concerns about diminishing purses and fears that live racing is doomed.

Finger Lakes horsemen floated a proposal to protect purses at levels from 2013 once the Lago Resort and Casino opens in early 2017. The horsemen want legislation that would require Lago to make payments if the purse account at their track drops below 2013 purse levels due to the new gambling competition.

Finger Lakes horsemen estimate that without such assistance from the state, live racing could end as soon as 2018.