MONTICELLO, NY — Horsemen and their supporters filled the room at the meeting of the Sullivan County Legislature on March 20 to sound off about their ongoing dispute with management of Monticello Raceway. At issue is the amount of casino revenue, if any, the horsemen will receive if Empire Resorts, which owns the raceway, and its partners receive a license to open a casino at the site of the former Concord Hotel.
Alan Schwartz, president of Monticello Harness Horsemens Association, took to the podium and said, “We believe that Empire Resorts is doing its best to eliminate horse racing in Monticello. We believe they don’t want a racetrack; they don’t want us there.”
He noted that there was no racetrack mentioned when plans for the proposed casino resort, called Adelaar, were unveiled at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on March 13.
At the heart of the dispute is a provision of the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act, which says that purses for racetracks at casinos may not rise beyond the level achieved in 2013, which according to various sources was not a good year.
Schwartz recounted some of the measures that have been taken during the dispute. He said because Empire Management would not negotiate the matter of the horsemen sharing some of the casino revenue, they pulled the plug on the simulcast of the races outside of New York State, which reportedly resulted in a significant drop in revenue for both sides.
Schwartz said, “In retribution, they closed our main track on Friday, Saturdays, and Sundays so we couldn’t train our horses, although we did get that reopened through the racing and wagering board. They closed the track kitchen, they took away our coffee and sandwiches so we have to starve when we’re in the paddock on race days. They took legal action to evict the Horsemens Association Office from the raceway property.”
Two other people associated with the horsemen spoke, and three members of the community spoke in their favor.
Legislator Cindy Geiger said that it was her understanding that the county legislature does not have the ability to negotiate any agreements with the type of non-Indian casinos of the sort that might open at the site of the former Concord Hotel. But she said she would look into it because “if there is a way for the legislature to address some of these issues, I think we should be taking a lead on that.”
Legislator Kitty Vetter said she was surprised to learn that moving the track was no longer part of the plan. She said, “Hopefully, the casino applicant will go back to the drawing board.”
Legislator Ira Steingart said, “I certainly want to see the horsemen stay; they’re part of the community. But I certainly don’t want to get in the middle of the negotiations.”
Response from racetrack management
Charles Degliomini, executive vice president of Empire Resorts/Monticello Casino & Raceway issued a statement regarding the contract and the pulling of the simulcast signal.
He said, “It’s unacceptable that the Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association (MHHA) is attempting to leverage us into paying tens of millions of dollars beyond what is clearly stipulated in the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act. The senate, assembly and the governor successfully crafted a bill that creates jobs, tourism and economic development for Upstate New York, while also providing hold-harmless revenue protections for the horse racing industry. Importantly, the act also created a level playing field for all casino competitors, even those who have current racetrack operations.
“After many rounds of negotiations and mediation, we offered the MHHA certain additional upside revenue based on milestones associated with our future success. Unfortunately this offer was rejected. The MHHA in turn resorted to strong-arm tactics concocted by their misguided leadership and their attorney to try to force us into paying them considerable revenue beyond what the law requires, and consequently disadvantage us as we compete for a casino license. They are also using our contract as a political hostage in a cynical attempt to have Albany change the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act. While Monticello Raceway is clearly an innocent casualty, because our current contract happens to have recently expired, we remain committed to seeking a fair resolution to quickly put an end to this dispute.”
Regarding relocating the racetrack, Degliomini wrote, “We currently have final site plan approval for a casino, hotel and harness horserace track at the site of the former Concord Resort. While the act does not require us to build a new track, we are awaiting clarification pursuant to the New York State Gaming Commission request for application process to better understand if a new harness track may be required. We have been operating harness racing since 1958, and in any scenario remain committed to improving, supporting and operating harness racing—either at our new location if we are a successful bidder, or at the current Monticello Raceway.”