12/30/2016 5:28PM

HBPA withdraws simulcast-betting approval at Finger Lakes

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The board of directors of the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has notified management of Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack that it has withdrawn its permission for the facility to conduct simulcast wagering as of Jan. 1.

The simulcast embargo will begin a month before the new Del Lago Resort and Casino is set to open 27 miles away from Finger Lakes. The new casino is expected to dramatically reduce business at the Finger Lakes casino.

Delaware North, the owner of Finger Lakes, has received a tax break from the state "that basically protects their profit from any losses," according to David Brown, president of the HBPA. But the horsemen have no such financial assurances from Del Lago, Delaware North, or New York State regarding their purse account.

A high percentage of the Finger Lakes purse account comes from gaming revenue. By statute, the purse account receives 8.75 percent of revenues generated at Finger Lakes.

"We are blocking the simulcasts completely out of frustration." Brown said. "Our board of directors has decided we have to do something to stimulate discussion. Racing here is in jeopardy."

In a Friday release, racino president Chris Riegle called the simulcast embargo "unfortunate and unnecessary."

The legislation to expand gambling in New York state contains a provision to protect existing casinos if a new one is licensed in the same region. But while Del Lago is located near Finger Lakes, it is in the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes zone, and Finger Lakes is in the Seneca Indian Nation zone.

Tioga Downs, a harness track located 85 miles from Del Lago owned by Jeff Gural, is considered in the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes zone, and is entitled to compensation from the soon-to-open casino.

"Del Lago originally said they could not subsidize our purses because they had to subsidize Tioga," Brown said. "But Gural has basically told them he doesn't want any money from them, making Del Lago the only casino in the state that does not have to support horse racing."

The HBPA has been negotiating with Del Lago, Delaware North, the New York State Gaming Commission, and the governor's office over this issue the past three years, according to Brown.

"We were told that it was an oversight that we were in a different zone than Del Lago and that it would all be worked out, but nothing has happened," he said.

Finger Lakes was approved for 155 racing days in 2016, but the HBPA and Delaware North do not yet have a contract in place for 2017. Brown said Delaware North had suggested a 100-day meet.

"Our purses don’t compare to other areas, what we have to sell is the length of our meet," Brown said. "It gives a small stable a lot of opportunities to run. We can't maintain our horse population with a short meet. We are already losing horsemen over this."

Riegle said that blocking the simulcast signal would hurt everyone involved.

"This move helps no one from our affected employees, our customers and the horsemen themselves, who now lose the proceeds that every simulcast wager generates towards their purse account, which is already projected to be down significantly in 2017 and is a major factor in our inability to come to an agreement to this point,” Riegle said.

Brown said the HBPA either needs the Legislature to act on their behalf or for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allocate funds in his budget to offset the loss of purse money from opening of the new casino.

"We really need help from the governor," Brown said. "The fear is Delaware North will block any bill that will hurt them and Del Lago will block any bill that will hurt them."

Brown said his organization did have access to people in the governor's office and that he expected meetings to be scheduled in the next few weeks among all of the concerned parties.

"The clock is ticking and there's a little bit of panic and a lot of frustration," Brown said. "Are they really going to watch this 54-year-old business go down the tubes? It seems unfair to me. There are 1,200 jobs at stake."