01/08/2018 4:54PM

Monticello: Horsemen secure for seven years as new casino imminent

Derick Giwner
Monticello horsemen are guaranteed a purse structure that maintains the 2013 levels.

The grand opening of the Resorts World Catskills casino at the former site of the Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, scheduled for February 16, will kick off a seven year agreement for the horsemen at Monticello Raceway. The agreement guarantees that purses for those years will meet the same level as the horsemen experienced in 2013.

Alan Schwartz, head of the Monticello Harness Horsemen’s group, helped work out the current deal when legislation had passed and paved the way for a casino in extremely close proximity to the racetrack.

Empire Resorts is the parent company of the owners of Monticello Raceway and perhaps of greater immediate concern to Schwartz and his horsemen is what cash flow they will experience in the near term as the new hotel-casino kicks off.

“The agreement gives us the purse structure for seven years,” said Schwartz, “but at this time we don’t know when the additional funds will be added to the purse account.”

Fortunately the arrangement also granted the horsemen 200,000 shares of the company that can be sold during the period. The value of those shares can be no less than $5.5 million and could go higher or lower based on stock price. “Right now they’re worth around $5.5 million,” said Schwartz.

Those shares may be critical to the immediate survival of the Monticello horsemen as they may prove to be the only guarantee of the 2018 purse account until funds are implemented from the new casino.

Schwartz recognized that his group might have to sell some stock in the near term to help purses maintain a proper level. “We would like to have higher purses during the summer,” said Schwartz.

At the moment this is a cash flow situation more than an actual loss of revenue as the long-term agreement assures that funds are made available for seven years whether that starts in February 2018 or December of the same year.

Monticello continues to be a solid simulcast racetrack with an audience that shows up at off-track sites and wagers strongly. “January is one of our best months,” said Schwartz. “Unfortunately there’s a horse shortage and we’ve had trouble filling 13-race cards.”

Nevertheless, Schwartz has indicated that even with between eight and 11 races on an afternoon program that numbers have been similar to the 13-race programs.

A point Schwartz touched on and seems inevitable is what will happen to the VLTs at Monticello Raceway. “There’s going to be a casino within 5 miles of this place,” said Schwartz. It’s hard to fathom that the racetrack will be able to hold on to very many customers with a spanking new 2018 facility to compete with.

The horsemen have asked and been granted 207 racing days in 2018 and Schwartz expects those numbers to remain a constant in the years ahead. Discussions to close for a month never got much traction among the group.

The contract guarantees racing at Monticello through 2025 and Schwartz didn’t really want to look down the road much further. “Right now the legislation requires that there be racing here in order for a casino to operate,” said Schwartz. “There’s no way to tell if new legislation will be brought forth in the future.”

Indeed that is the most critical element for all horsemen’s groups throughout North America. Legislation can give and legislation can take away what was promised from earlier acts.

For now the business of racing horses at Monticello Raceway is going to continue and more than likely the building will be operating with fewer live bodies in it whether watching the racing or playing the slot machines.

With guaranteed purses and the ability to flexibly alter the account with a $5.5 million cushion, local horsemen can reasonably plan for the future.

Hopefully the Catskill’s new casino will be a raging success and give those running it no reason to push to change legislation or claw any of the funds stamped for horse racing in the near or distant future.

Resorts World Catskills casino is likely to bring a lot more people to the area over the coming years and hopefully it will help revive local businesses and perhaps provide some overflow to the Raceway.