Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Vernon Downs' success used as blueprint, Saratoga race season in jeopardy

VERNON, N.Y. (WKTV) - Six years ago, the future of Vernon Downs was in jeopardy and racing at Saratoga continued to thrive.

Now, those roles have been reversed.

OTB terminals and the hundreds of thousands of jobs associated with them are on the chopping block in New York City.

New York City OTBs recently filed for bankruptcy and told the New York Racing Association that they will be delaying payments to them. NYC OTBs owes NYRA around $15 million, according to Executive Director of New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association Jim Gallagher.

The OTB debt is important to Mohawk Valley horse racing fans, because the money they bring in affects racing at Saratoga. Gallagher said that if little-to-no money is being brought in, then racing at Saratoga is in question.

State lawmakers can, however, save both if they allow video lottery terminals (VLT) at downstate tracks like they allowed at Vernon Downs.

The Aqueduct Race Track in New York City has been hoping for VLTs for eights years, as well as expanding to a racino. However, Gallagher said the state has yet to decide on who will run the video lottery terminals.

Aqueduct, along with Belmont race track and Saratoga, are all under the governing body of the NYRA.

NYRA officials say wagering alone is not bringing in enough revenue to support the three race tracks, but they believe the Aqueduct VLTs would accomplish that.

Gallagher says the fate of Saratoga's race season could be decided in June, shortly after the Belmont Stakes. According to the track's website, opening day at Saratoga will be July 23.

Principal Owner of Vernon Downs Jeff Gural said that it's no secret that the Downs would be closed if they did not get a license for VLTs in 2006. Gural says he feels Vernon Downs and their racino is a blue print for the future of racing in New York State.

"It is clear that the long term salvation for Saratoga is awarding the VLTs to Aqueduct," said Gural. "We could not have survived without them. No race track can."

When asked if Saratoga would have racing this season, NYRA Director of Communications Dan Silver said "We are hopeful there will be a full racing season at Saratoga."