Tom Precious, Blood-Horse
Date Posted: 12/18/2015

In an apparent move to pressure state officials to at least lower its mandated tax rate, Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack said Dec. 18 that it wants to cut the number of Thoroughbred race dates in 2016 by nearly 20%.

The track’s announcement comes several days before the state Gaming Commission is expected to consider, and likely approve, a new, full-blown commercial casino to be located less than a half hour’s drive from Finger Lakes in upstate.

Finger Lakes has already said it won’t be able to compete against the proposed Lago Resort & Casino, which is to be located just off the New York State Thruway between Rochester and Syracuse. It says total state-required payments from the track and casino total 79% of revenues, compared with the proposed 37% that Lago will pay on slot revenues and 10% on table games.

Finger Lakes says its decision is based on “looking ahead” to the looming competition from Lago, although it is not certain yet when that facility will open, and so it has asked the state Gaming Commission to let it lower the number of 2016 racing dates from 155 this year to 126 in 2016.

“With Lago possibly beginning to operate next fall, we just don’t see how we will be able to maintain a positive purse account for the length of racing schedule that we have traditionally had,” said Chris Riegle, president and general manager of Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack.

Finger Lakes is among those in the racing and track-based casino business in New York expected to seek some sort of financial relief in the 2016 legislative session that begins in January. They are likely to argue that the new state-sanctioned casinos entering the market in the next year or two will sharply hit their finances.

Horsemen at Finger Lakes predicted more than a year ago that Lago would force the eventual closure of the track and attached casino. Riegle, in a statement issued December 18 said it will be “inevitable that Lago will be the death knell of Finger Lakes and Thoroughbred racing in upstate New York.”

Finger Lakes first opened in 1962.

Besides Lago, casino applications for new commercial casinos in downtown Schenectady and the southern Catskills county of Sullivan are on the agenda for Dec. 21 Gaming Commission board meeting. A fourth casino application, to be located at Tioga Downs racetrack west of Binghamton, is pending and not on the Monday agenda.

Seven Las Vegas-style casinoscomplete with table games and real slot machines, unlike the VLTs offered at nine track-based casinos in New Yorkwere approved in a statewide referendum in 2013. A state panel last December recommended the three sites likely to be approved Monday; since then, the operators have amended their plans and gone through background and other examinations by the Gaming Commission.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the casino developments could be major upstate economic development endeavors, though critics say the market in and around New York state is already become saturated with too many choices for gambling dollars.