12/18/2013 6:39PM

New York task force says industry should help subsidize disability benefits for jockeys


ROSLYN, N.Y. - A task force will recommend to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that the state’s racing industry help subsidize health and disability benefits for jockeys - a contribution that could come close to $1 million - but it was unclear exactly how or by whom it will be funded.

At its second meeting, the state appointed, seven-member New York Task Force on Jockey Health and Safety unanimously agreed to include in its recommendations that the state partially assist qualifying jockeys - who are viewed by many as independent contractors - with the cost of health, welfare, and disability benefits.

“We’re going to recommend in our report that this get done,” said Anthony Bonomo, the Governor-appointed chair of the task force as well as a horse owner and member of the New York Racing Association Board.

The much more difficult charge for the Task Force before it presents its recommendations to the governor in March is how to fund this subsidy.

John Velazquez, a Hall of Fame rider who is currently idle due to injury, and three-time Eclipse Award winning rider Ramon Dominguez, forced to retire due to head trauma sustained in a spill at Aqueduct in January, are two of the seven members of this panel. Under a proposal they presented to the other task force members, a Health and Welfare Trust would be established that utilizes “a Health Reimbursement Account for each eligible, active, retired, or permanently disabled jockey in which the New York State contributions will be held for each year.”

Jockeys could use these funds to purchase health and welfare benefits or direct some, or all, of their share of funds to be accumulated as part of a deferred income plan.

The Trust would be available for those jockeys who have had 200 mounts in a year at a New York Racing Association track, or, failing that, 51 percent of a minimum 100 mounts. At Finger Lakes, jockeys eligible for benefits would be required to have had 100 mounts. Using those standards, 28 NYRA jockeys and 29 Finger Lakes jockeys would have been eligible to receive subsidies in 2012.

Retired jockeys who rode at least 7,500 mounts in New York and rode at least one race after Jan. 1, 2009, would also be eligible for benefits, covering approximately 30 riders, according to the proposal.

It is not definite that this proposal will be fully adopted by the Task Force in its report to the governor.

The jockeys presented a mid-level insurance plan that would cost $1.334 million.  At 70 percent, the industry would have to come up with $933,800.

New York owners and trainers already pay a base fee of $840 to workman’s compensation to riders plus .95 percent of purses earned as well as, at NYRA tracks, 90 cents per day per stall. That stall fee at Finger Lakes is 30 to 35 cents per day.

In 2012, NYRA horsemen contributed $3.1 million towards workman’s compensation while that figure was expected to be more than $4 million in 2013.

Velazquez said that one possible funding mechanism is from the revenue that goes to the industry from the casino at Aqueduct.

“That was part of the plan in the beginning. It just depends what the governor wants to do,” Velazquez said.

The percentage of casino revenue that is earmarked to horsemen, breeders, and tracks is already designated by state law.

“The easiest way is take it out of purses,” Bonomo said. “Purses are really high; then again you’re hurting the economic risk-taker [the owner]. I’m one of them. I’m not against it, but I’m only one.”

Alan Foreman, a member of the task force and the chairman and CEO of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said he agrees “in concept with creating a health and welfare trust for the riders” but was skeptical about how much more the industry should contribute.

“For those who make well in excess of six figures, is it, in today’s marketplace, appropriate to subsidize these individuals?” Foreman said. “The people that don’t work on the backstretch don’t get health care subsidized, the trainers, many of whom have to buy health care coverage, it’s not subsidized. It’s a very fair question to ask. It’s got nothing to do with your contribution to the industry, nothing to do with the risk you take to ride horses.”

After the meeting, Foreman was asked about how a trust like this could be funded.

“If it’s to be implemented it has to be a shared responsibility,” Foreman said. “That may involve the track, the horsemen, the riders, and maybe others.”

Asked if others meant the fans, Foreman said, “I’m not suggesting that the fans should be paying for it. It’s the industry.”

The task force is scheduled to hold its next meeting on Jan. 22.


Peter More than 1 year ago
How about taking this 1 step further. Velasquez & Dominguez were making millions per year, and lets face it , its not about the little jocks who ride at Finger Lakes and can barely make ends meet. Why aren't the exercise riders included in this??? They are the people who GET the horses ready for the Jockeys to ride and make from $10- $15 per exercise. Maybe its because Gallop riders out number jockeys 30 to 1, but they inherit just as dangerous if not more so than the Jocks do, who make 10% of the mount and never give the exercise riders any of that money. When I hear a multi millionaire jockey stand up for the "people" behind the scenes i actually might listen... And also, without OWNERS, there would be no Trainers, Exercise Riders and everyone else who gets the horse to the stage that a Jockey can ride it in a race..
GuyFleegman1 More than 1 year ago
Without the horses and jockey's...owners cannot make money and the betting public would be out of luck...HORSE RACING !!! Take care of the Jockey's and Horses!!!!
Roseann Cherasaro More than 1 year ago
The workers need this..to deny is to have no soul.Stall fees at 95 cents and 30 to 35 cents a day is nothing.Hopefully the slot money will help and not be misdirected as in other states.
wolves More than 1 year ago
the jockeys can take a percent or two from their winning rides and fund themselves. Dear god, they already get 10% of the winner's share. Why should gamblers fund them? At NYRA, the average jockey is making more money than 99% of the general public.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The fans will pay for it. There is no such thing as a free lunch. When you increase benefits for workers, the price is passed along to consumers. I am not necessarily opposed to jockeys having a full complement of benefits, but the decision-makers should think long and hard about possible repercussions of enacting yet another price increase. The sport reflexively increases the costs to its dwindling base of fans. They do this through a variety of mechanisms including overt takeout hikes, signal fees, source market fees, taxes, and surcharges. Unfortunately, this has made racing uncompetitive with other forms of gambling. Consider the following takeout rates: Blackjack with basic strategy: less than 2% (and as low as 1/10th of one percent) Slots: 90-97% payback Live Poker: average of 2.5-5% per pot Video Poker: 93-100% payback depending on the machine Sports Betting: 4.55% (and less with promotional wagers) Unfortunately for the lowly horseplayer, we are expected to pay a 22% blended takeout rate. Some takeout rates are equivalent to state lottery scratch off tickets. The new generation of gamblers has resoundingly rejected horseracing and its antiquated pricing model. Unfortunately, horse racing has been buffered from the costs of its bad decision making, at least in the short run. When the slot machines subsidies come to a screeching halt, the industry will realize it has alienated its fans, who have either found new hobbies, moved to poker, or died off. The game will wither on the vine and the horsemen and jockeys will compete for blue ribbons.
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
No problem with the point you're making but, poker is usually a 10% rake up to a limit, and sports betting is always a 10% vig. I'm sure there are promotions with some casino's for heavy players etc, but any bookie anywhere is 10%. Still, no where close to horse racing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Horse Cents, first we need to differentiate between online and brick and mortar poker. The online game typically has a 5% rake capped at 3-4 dollars. When there is no flop, there is no drop. The typical brick and mortar poker games have a wide range of different rakes. The smallest games are typically 10% up to $4 or $5, but cheaper at many Vegas casinos. They may squeeze extra money with a jackpot drop. However, the no flop-no drop rule is almost universal with the exception of venues that have a dead-drop (i.e. California). Furthermore, the pots often exceed the maximum rake. Medium and larger games typically are raked at 5% to 4 or 5 bucks (usually without a jackpot drop). The 15/30 games I play give the house a true takeout of about 2% Admittedly, tournament play has a higher vigorish, but the games last hours. Also, most card clubs give their players some form of comps. I know what you are thinking about with respect to sports betting. However, the true takeout is NOT 10%. In sports betting 50/50 propositions are often -110 (Risk $11 to win $10). If the odds were fair they would be $11 to win $11. So half the time you win. Half the time you're being shorted $1.00. On average that's being shorted $0.50 per bet. $0.5/$11=0.04545, which is 4.55% vig. Either way, as you indicated, the rake is nowhere close to horseracing. The horsemen and tracks will make this argument: but it costs more money to put on the show! If that was the case, they might as well charge 80% takeout at struggling tracks. The relevant consideration is what price maximizes revenue. It's my contention that 22% blended takeouts are extremely self-defeating and constitute a major obstacle to reversing the downward spiral.
Thorobred Racing More than 1 year ago
Fully agree with Mr. Valasquez that funding should come from casino revenues. it is only greed that insists that the casino revenues should all be diverted to purses. Jpckeys because of their high risk career cannot be compared to backstrecth employees or trainers and owners. Grow up Ny Racing and do something that would perhaps lessen the racing fans fury at your decision to increase entrance fees through greed and irresponsibility. Unless something positive comes out of the governor;s office and the NY racing boardroom, the feeling from the fans is that NY racing will begin digging its own grave.
Rocky Spano More than 1 year ago
All jockeys and backstretch employees should have disability coverage provided from the reduction in the purses, the track or organization running the race and the fans.
matrimoney4u More than 1 year ago
There is a difference between health insurance and disability insurance. It is not the same and is easily confused by the general population. Health insurance pays medical expenses. Disability provides income protection. If you aren't able to ride, how will you get income? To compare jockeys to the owners, trainers and backside workers is not fair. Jockeys can't go to Mass Mutual and get a disability policy like the President of ABC company who owns a stable of horses can. If the President of ABC company is in a coma, they'll get a percentage of their income from disability insurance because they are unable to perform the duties of their job, which is a common employee benefit, or if a biz owner, they can get a private policy that would do the same. I don't know the risk categories for trainers or backside people, but they most likely could qualify for disability income protection insurance. I think it would be impossible for jockeys to get disability insurance. Most professional athletes can't get it via regular consumer channels. Then we have the various state laws to consider. Maybe the jockeys can investigate how the NFL, NHL, and other pro athlete groups insure their players and participate in a similar plan. I don't know --but jockeys should be able to insure their income so if a Dominguez, Velazaquez can have income coming in as they rehab or get retrained in another position. That's the point of insurance. Without jockeys, who is going to ride the horses? Jockeys bring value and expertise to the game -- other athletes have income protection, jockeys should, too.
Crystal David More than 1 year ago
I'm sure they can apply for Social Security disability like anyone else who becomes disabled. I'm also sure all company executives get disability insurance through their employers, but MANY MANY MANY regular workers (like me) do not. No independent contractor in any profession has disability insurance provided for them - they have to buy it for themselves.
matrimoney4u More than 1 year ago
Crystal--good for you to be aware of disability insurance. Social Security disability can't be relied on. One must not be able to perform the duties of "any" job. So as long as someone can work any job, they won't be eligible for SS. I too am self employed and have purchased my own plan. They aren't cheap, but they are out there. In addition 5 states have a state sickness plan that can also be a help, but for a year or less. (CA, NY, HI, RI, NJ) Also an employee benefit. In CA this SDI can be purchased by self employed people. I don't know about the other states.
michael More than 1 year ago
Very interesting problem to be solved. Who is to pay for this?? It seems that everyone is out for themselves. I agree about the worry for backstretch employees. Who watches out for their welfare. They are in their line of work to be employed caring for horses. Their choice. Jockeys have a choice to do what they do. At the same time, shared effort coule be a possibility, but am worried about Foreman saying "and others", sounds to me like the bettors get to contribute again and again. Without the bettors, there is no game of horse racing. Period.
CHris SChott More than 1 year ago
I say 1>reduce the purses 2>take a small percentage of jockey purse winnings Use the proceeds to fund a comfortable safety net for under appreciated athletes with very dangerous jobs.
GuyFleegman1 More than 1 year ago
Money should be taken out of every single race in the country, based on purse size and set aside for jockeys and horses for when they are hurt, disabled or retired. Simple as that.