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MANALAPAN, NJ -- July 16, 2018 -- Mark Ford, the President of the SBOA of NJ, has issued the following statement in response to the attached DRF article regarding the Saturday opening of Sport's Betting at the Meadowlands. "We have had ongoing dialogue with Jeff and the Meadowlands. In one of our more recent meetings, it was clearly understood, and stated by Jeff, that the horseman would participate in sport's betting revenues with details yet to be worked out. It was exciting to see the Fan Duel-Meadowlands opening, coinciding with a night of spectacular racing, and hopefully this is just the start of a new era at the Meadowlands."   DRF Full Article   by Courtney Stafford, for the SBOANJ  

Contacting through the SOA of NY, this morning harness racing driver Brian Sears issued the following statement pertaining to not be able to race in the Meadowlands Pace. Jeff Gural and I had several discussions earlier in the year. He made it known what he expected from me. I agreed to go to the Meadowlands in June during the break at Yonkers. After contemplating what opportunities I might have there, I went a different route. I'm pleased that we have come to an agreement that works for all parties and allows me to race at the Meadowlands and fulfill my commitments to the owners and trainers that have invested so much in our game. No further information was provided about what the agreement agreed to.        

Late last night, the Meadowlands management sent a response to pertaining to the situation with Brian Sears being barred from competing Saturday night in the Meadowlands Pace. At the end of last year (track owner) Jeff Gural and (COO) Jason Settlemoir met with all of the drivers that compete regularly at The Meadowlands, including Brian Sears. It was explained to them that if they wanted to drive at Yonkers from Jan through June don’t expect to show up in July to drive horses in our major stakes. Everyone understood and we made it clear that this rule did not apply to the Levy or Matchmaker or any other stakes races, only to overnights. Brett Miller, Yannick Gingras and Corey Callahan drove at The Meadowlands over the winter, though not every night, but they did not drive at Yonkers. Dave Miller and Brian Sears spent the winter in Florida and David began driving at the Meadowlands when he came back. Tim Tetrick took the winter off and came back after the Levy. Sears asked if he could come back after Yonkers closed for 10 days at the end of May and he did come back for that weekend’s racing. He then called Jeff and told him he had decided he did not want to be driving on the Grand Circuit and endure all the travel and inconvenience. Jeff said that was his decision and he understood; assuming this issue would not arise since most trainers of Grand Circuit horses expect their driver to travel around to Canada, Indiana, PA, Ohio and Lexington. And not just show up at the Meadowlands. Truthfully, we are surprised this became an issue since Jeff likes Brian, thinks he is a great driver and respects his desire to slow down as evidenced by his decision to take the winter off. Brian Sears is not a victim here; he advised that as a lifestyle matter he wasn’t looking for what a racing on the Grand Circuit requires and we respect that. We appreciated the commitment and rigorous schedule maintained by our drives who are Grand Circuit drivers. Up to now the only reason there is racing at the Meadowlands is because Jeff has subsidized the operating losses and overpaid the purse account by millions of dollars. With the help of many sponsors the lights have remained on and the lucrative stakes program intact. Seeing the hand writing on the wall with the dramatic decline in entries as evidenced by the fewer races, short field and lower handle has compelled Jeff along with Mike Gulotta, the SBOANJ and Dennis Drazin at Monmouth Park to work tirelessly these last few months to convince the state of the importance of horse racing in the state. Together they have requested that the state restore the $30 million-dollar purse subsidy that Gov. Christie redirected to AC advising politicians that without that money it would be impossible for The Meadowlands to continue to race when the PA tracks are open and also impossible to maintain the existing stakes schedule, which is what makes Meadowlands the leading harness track in the country, if not the world. Unfortunately, the subsidy was not included in the budget passed last week; however Jeff and the others have not given up and hope to have that added to a supplement budget which hopefully will happen in the fall. In the meantime, everyone should enjoy the next five weeks of major stakes and the 2-year-olds racing on Saturday’s Breakfast With The Babies culminating with the richest race of the year, the Hambletonian. From the management at the Meadowlands

East Rutherford, NJ - The Meadowlands is pleased to announce that two of its historic Hambletonian Day stakes are being retitled to honor a pair of men who have contributed mightily to the health and well being of horse racing in New Jersey. The race for Hambletonian eligible 3-year-old trotting colts previously called the "Townsend Ackerman" will now be known as the "Dennis Drazin". Mr. Drazin, an attorney by trade, is a longtime Thoroughbred owner and breeder who has served as President of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the chairman of the New Jersey Racing Commission. He resigned the Commission post to become Chairman and CEO of Darby Development LLC, operators of Monmouth Park, a position he has held since 2012. Mr. Drazin was the driving force behind Monmouth Park's decision to fight in court to bring sports betting to New Jersey and the resulting legislation. That dream was finally realized when the US Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and Governor Murphy signed it into law earlier this year. Mr. Drazin graciously reflected on the tribute, "I am both humbled and honored to be acknowledged for my accomplishments by Jeff Gural and the Meadowlands team by naming their prestigious race the Dennis Drazin. Jeff always promised during 6 years of litigation that if we were successful in winning the Sports Betting litigation that he would name a Grade 1 Stake in my honor. I am proud to accept this wonderful distinction from a leader in the industry and my peers." Mr. Frank Zanzuccki has served horse racing in the state of New Jersey for 40 years, having joined the New Jersey Racing Commission in 1978 then ascending the ranks until being appointed Executive Director in 1992. He retired from that position on July 1, 2018. To recognize his considerable contributions over that period, The Meadowlands' race for Hambletonian eligible 3-year-old trotting fillies previously titled the "Duenna" shall henceforth be titled the "Frank Zanzuccki".   "To be recognized by the harness racing industry in this fashion is a great honor and I am sincerely grateful to Jeff Gural and his staff at the New Meadowlands for this accolade," was Mr. Zanzuccki's response to the notice.   Both men will be present to award the stakes trophy to the winning connections on Hambletonian Day, August 4.   by Nick Salvi, for the Meadowlands  

World renown harness racing driver and inductee to the Hall of Fame, Brian Sears has been barred from racing in the elimination divisions of the $700,000 Meadowlands Pace on Saturday, July 7 at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, NJ. It had been four years since Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural first barred Sears from the track. That dispute began on Friday, June 20, 2014 when Sears told Gural that he was going to drive at Yonkers Raceway and not at the Meadowlands except for stakes events. Trainer Jimmy Takter had listed Sears to drive the three-year-old pacer, Thinkbig Dreambig, in the 6th race this Saturday, but when the draw for post positions took place, there was no driver listed for Thinkbig Dreambig, who drew post position seven. Because the Meadowlands Pace is owned by the Meadowlands Racetrack, Gural is allowed to say who can and who cannot compete in their stakes race. Sears had this to say about the barring. “Well, I heard that since it is a Meadowlands race,” Sears explained. “He (Jeff Gural) and keep me out. It’s very disheartening and I’m tired of the unnecessary drama that I have to deal with. I just hope it doesn’t pertain to other stakes races. I’m tired of the silliness.” When contacted for a comment on the Brian Sears situation, Jeff Gural’s response was very simple. “Go ask him.” By Steve Wolf, for Harnesslink

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Meadowlands chairman Jeff Gural will talk about what lies ahead for Garden State bettors Friday night as the Big M prepares to take action on professional and college sports in the coming weeks. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with New Jersey and ruled that sports betting is now legal across the country. Gural will be interviewed by the Meadowlands' television department's primary host Dave Brower before the Friday night program gets underway and explain how sports betting will work and when players will be able to place their first wagers. The interview will take place Friday evening at 6:45 p.m. and can be seen by anyone watching the live "Racing from the Meadowlands" pre-game show. By Dave Little, Meadowlands Media Relations    

I am sure that most of us in the harness industry read with interest Jeff Gural's HRU comments reflecting his frustration at the USTA's refusal to proceed with a survey of membership willingness to fund a new marketing initiative via a 5% withholding of purse monies.  While I sympathize with Jeff's frustration at failing to have the industry act as he wishes, I can not help but feel that Jeff, and his advisers, should reflect on their underlying business assumptions. Until Jeff and other racetrack owners accept the reality that on track attendance - except for significant and well presented "Kentucky Derby" type special event days - is a thing of the past, and that profitability has to be earned from intelligent cost cutting of all on site expenses and overheads (except on "special event" days) combined with a massive push for expansion of wagering outlets and presentation of both a more exciting product and more interesting wagering platforms, financial success will be unattainable. And if financial success for racetrack owners is unattainable, then the industry will be lost! Ultimately, governments and investors will reject business models that rely on parasitic carve outs from profitable enterprises only to support a non profitable one! For this reason more than any other, I am frightened by Jeff's determination to seek marketing dollars for what I believe is a lost and misguided objective. Significant funds are needed for figuring out how to broaden off site wagering, for analysis aimed at creating a more interesting product and betting options designed to appeal to a young, 21st. Century customer. Certainly, funds are needed for government lobbying and for efforts to fill special event days with celebrities covered by top draw video shows. Reciprocal business tie ins that can broaden potential customer awareness of harness racing - both the on site experience of special event days, and the daily streaming of betting product - are essential, and a relatively untapped resource. In summary of this point, I suggest that we need to understand what business model we will market before generating marketing dollars that will only be wasted trying to fit a round ball into a square hole. For racetracks to make money they need to remake their business to meet the demands of the marketplace rather than waste time and money trying to reshape that marketplace to resemble that of gloried days of the past! A few other comments on Jeff's frustrated perspective, prefaced by an acknowledgement that his efforts have been instrumental in keeping The Meadowlands, Tioga, and Vernon alive to this point. It is not really fair to assert that racetrack operators, like Jeff, only participate in losing racetrack investments without also benefitting from the huge casino related profits that flow from racino gambling. In most cases, the casino operations were only enabled by state governments to try to assist racing, downstream employment, and agricultural interests by giving racetrack owners time to adjust to new business realities and to restructure operations in response to a changing business environment. No government ever intended to fund endlessly a non competitive industry at the expense of other industries, investors, social causes, and societally necessary funding obligations that every day increasingly push government away from racing. Jeff must understand that the government subsidy he desires can only be gotten thru presentation to government of a believable, intelligent, supportable financial/business plan showing a road to short/medium term profitability. It is in support of developing that business plan that marketing dollars are needed, and it is the track owners who should be investing their funds in protection of their own investment! It is also disingenuous for any track owner to suggest that racetrack owners suffering operational losses on the racing side are not being, or hope to be, more than salvaged by huge windfalls in the form of their overrides on associated casinos. In Jeff's case, I can understand his frustration at mounting operational losses without certainty of eventual casino income, but that is the situation that he bought into. Sadly, the Meadowlands has squandered quite a few years by failing to reinvent itself as needed to successfully address current market realities. What may work at Tioga or Vernon, will rarely be a solution at The Meadowlands, and, quite simply, the product now being offered by The Big M is tired, stale, boring, and light years from the product that made the Big M what it was. The problem isn't in getting the message to more people, the problem is in the message itself! One last point. If Jeff gets casino rights and income, I doubt that racing has a direct, guaranteed % of participation tied directly to his income. Without that, Jeff's interests are not directly aligned with racing's, and it seems understandable that Jeff risks short term losses for long term, very large, returns. Racing's participants, however, live in the present with a cynical, but likely accurate, perception that future casino profits will be so watered down by the time they trickle down to racing that the impact may well be minor. I think that Jeff, on reflection, will realize that his frustration should not lead to punitive actions aimed at people just doing their best to make the best living they can - something that is well within their right. If Jeff decides the risk/reward of continuing with racing losses in the hope of casino windfalls no longer makes sense, he is well within his rights to exit and shut down operations. That would be a sad day for all, but harness racing, in some form, would continue to exist. Sometimes a short term disaster is the wake up call that is needed to force appropriate change long deferred! Perhaps if Jeff wants to cut back at The Big M, he might consider attempting to return the Big M to its roots by offering a compact 60-80 day meet of only stake races, late closers, and high class races June-September, 4 days a week. There would be little problem getting top drivers, sponsorships would be easier to maintain, and there would be a real quality product to market! At the end of the day, Jeff, you can't ask the USTA and industry participants to undertake operational/management obligations that are yours', especially given the casino windfall that is the driving force behind your racing investment! A windfall that will disproportionately fall to investors and operators.... Gordon Banks

Clay Horner told HRU Thursday there are two major reasons the Standardbred Racing Integrity and Accountability Initiative (SRIAI) rule being proposed by the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) and the Jeff Gural owned tracks will not be in effect until 2019. (Read previous stories: 2018-01-07 and 2018-01-12) Horner, WEG’s chairman, had hoped the new integrity rule intended to increase horse owner accountability would be in place for 2018, but with February 15 stakes payment deadline looming quickly and Ontario’s regulator asking for more time to properly vet the rule, Woodbine at Mohawk Park president Jessica Buckley confirmed the decision has been made to hold off until next year. “I think it’s going to take more time than we hoped, but we’re definitely not going to back away from what we’re trying to achieve,” Buckley said. Horner stressed this is not a sign WEG, Gural or the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) that oversees racing in Ontario is giving up on the rule. “That would be the wrong message to take away (from the delay in implementation),” Horner said. “There are two messages (to take away): this is highly constructive and we’ll be back.” Burke issued penalty over TCO2 In semi-related news, judges at The Meadows have handed trainer Ron Burke a 30-day suspension and $1,000 fine after TJ Blast — a horse trained and owned, in part, by Burke — had a high blood gas reading (TCO2) prior to the third race on Monday (Jan. 22) at the Pittsburgh-area track. At the request of the horse’s connections — and in accordance to an authorized procedure offered to others with horses with high TCO2 readings in the past — TJ Blast was sequestered for 72 hours after the initial positive and then retested. The Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission has been told the penalty will likely be appealed, but no such appeal had been filed by Thursday afternoon. To read the entire article on Harness Racing Update click on this link.

Jeff Gural doesn’t just own Tioga Downs Casino Resort. He’s the chief executive greeter. His uniform: blue jeans, orange Crocs and an open-neck, collared dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves. Gural, 75, a blunt, affable Nassau County native with an edge sharpened from five decades in high-stakes New York real estate development, is a fixture at his resort-casino in Nichols, midway between Elmira and Binghamton. He and his lenders recently plowed $160 million into converting the property from a racino to a true “destination resort” 30 miles south of the Finger Lakes. Now, he asks visitors what would keep them coming back for harness racing, eight eateries and bars, 32 poker tables, 950 slot machines, a 161-room hotel, golf and other attractions. Gural wonders how Tioga can boost gaming revenue, which recently fell 25 percent short of the casino’s $100 million year-one projection. Come Feb. 8, Empire Resorts’ executives will face a similarly daunting competitive challenge as they open Resorts World Catskills in a crowded, cutthroat Northeast gaming market. The $920 million, 1.6-million-square-foot, five-star casino and entertainment complex has an optimistic $277 million year-one gross gaming revenue projection. But that number is realistic if the project dazzles and draws heavily from the New York City area, said Clyde Barrow, a gaming expert at Pyramid Associates of Westport, Mass. With 2,157 slot machines and 150 table games on a 100,000-square-foot gaming floor, the Town of Thompson property will be New York’s 25th commercial or Indian gaming licensee. Resorts World Catskills, which will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, joins a lineup of venues featuring horse racing, casino gaming, video lottery terminals and off-track betting. It will be New York’s 10th casino, including six Indian locations. Shortly after Resorts World Catskills debuts, the Oneida Nation will open the 11th, Point Place, in Madison County near Syracuse. Twenty-five years ago, scant gambling competition existed in the Northeast, until the Oneida opened Turning Stone in Verona five years after the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allowed federally recognized tribes to open gaming venues. Today, the list of luxurious casino-resorts and gaming options continues to grow throughout the Northeast, as every state except Vermont now has gambling options. Pennsylvania alone has 12 casinos. Two new casinos are planned in Atlantic City, N.J., even after market saturation led five of the city’s casinos to close from 2014 to 2016. And several new and expanded casino-resorts are planned over the next two years, including the bar-raising $2.4 billion Wynn Boston Harbor due next year. “There’s no question the market is saturated,” said Moody’s analyst Keith Foley of casinos in upstate New York. “Market saturation is like a game of musical chairs. At some point, there will be no place left for more gaming.” Statewide, New York falls far below the saturation levels for areas of the country considered full, such as the Tunica-Lula area of Mississippi and the St. Louis market, according to statistical modeling that Barrow performed for the Times Herald-Record. Barrow’s analysis also found that New York officials awarding gaming licenses in 2015 and 2016 misplaced the first four non-Indian casinos in cash-strapped, customer-short upstate areas with limited demand and spending power when they could have allowed one or two easily profitable projects in or near New York City. “What we’re doing isn’t easy,” said Ryan Eller, president and CEO of Empire Resorts, which is building Resorts World Catskills. “If you’re closer (to New York City), you can hit that same revenue number with less investment and less risk. This isn’t a layup. It’s a heck of a lot of investment and risk.” Resorts World Catskills’ operators hope to capture gamers of all ages with gaming and amenities they say are on par with Las Vegas and Macau. The project features an 18-story, 332-suite luxury hotel; a 2,000-seat event center for fights, conferences and concerts; and more than 10 bars and restaurants like an Italian steakhouse by celebrity chef Scott Conant. Subsequent plans include a mid-market boutique hotel, along with 15,000 square feet of additional retail, food and beverage space, due in the fourth quarter of this year. Nearby, the $150 million-plus Kartrite indoor, family water park and hotel is being developed by Pennsylvania’s Camelback Resort co-owners Ken Ellis and Arthur Berry III. It’s due by spring 2019. And golfers will tee off at Resorts World Catskills’ revamped golf course by mid-2019. Odds of success Resorts World Catskills’ leaders say their “comprehensive integrated resort” model will succeed because of the property’s quality and proximity within two hours of New York City. But given the glut of upstate gaming, the casino’s gross gaming revenues will be the real gauge of its success. To be healthy in year one, the casino must earn a daily average of at least $228 to $246 for each of its 2,157 slot machines and a minimum of $1,517 to $1,770 per table game, according to the Record’s calculations based on the project’s state license application data and consultations with gaming industry experts. In year three, after full build out, Resorts World Catskills expects its gross gaming revenues to grow to $301.6 million – meaning average daily earnings of $249 to $268 per slot machine and $1,652 to $1,928 per table game, based on the casino’s current number of slot machines and table games. To put those totals in perspective, the giant northeast Connecticut casino Mohegan Sun averaged $411 per slot machine each day in fiscal year 2006-07, when it had little competition, according to data collected by Connecticut. Around the same time, when Atlantic City’s casinos were still dominant, most averaged daily per table earnings between $2,200 and $3,000, Barrow said. New York’s three new casinos have fallen far short of those standards, as well as their own projections. Through the end of December, Tioga Downs averaged just $170 per machine per day, according to the New York State Gaming Commission. Del Lago Resort and Casino, in Waterloo between Rochester and Syracuse, earned $150, and Schenectady’s Rivers Casino Resort took in $209. Table-game revenue was even worse for Tioga Downs and Del Lago. Between April and December 2017, Tioga Downs averaged $873 per table game daily, del Lago, $1,346 and Rivers, $2,041. Signs of market cannibalization are appearing, too, according to a new casino saturation report by Moody’s, which predicted “Resorts World will be entering a very tough gaming market” in upstate New York. Although Del Lago and Rivers have expanded the overall gaming revenue market, they’ve also taken big chunks of revenue from nearby competitors like Finger Lakes Gaming and Vernon Downs, Moody’s found. Barrow’s analysis also showed competing upstate casinos’ gaming revenues have been cannibalized. “It’s a good thing that we didn’t have the right projections, because probably all three of the casinos wouldn’t have been built if we had the accurate information,” Gural said. “I think (the consultants) were using formulas that didn’t fully take into account the saturation factor.” Moody’s Foley recently downgraded debt for Del Lago to a rating of Caa2 or “very weak creditworthiness,” with a “negative” outlook for future ratings. It is on track to earn $150 million in gross gaming revenue instead of the $250 million Moody’s expected. Foley and the other experts interviewed for this article aren’t yet questioning if New York’s new casinos will survive, but they say it remains to be seen if they will gross enough gaming revenues to thrive. “From what states is (Resorts World Catskills) going to be taking people from?” asked Father Richard McGowan, a Boston College management professor specializing in gaming. “Let’s face it, no one will be coming from New Jersey or New England to go there. ... Good luck.” Politics over profits Resorts World Catskills’ leaders will rely on the New York City metropolitan area to supply most of its customer base. They’re also betting the casino will attract “whales” or big-time gamblers, particularly from the Far East, via its upmarket amenities. In line with industry standards, Resorts World Catskills expects to give away seven in 10 luxury hotel rooms to high rollers. The casino also is targeting Asian gamers in general with a gaming area designed for them. If Resorts World Catskills underperforms, it’ll be because of politics, gaming industry experts said. Gov. Andrew Cuomo sold a 2013 referendum to amend New York’s Constitution to permit more gaming as a way to bring jobs and investment to economically disadvantaged upstate areas. “These (new casinos) have been extremely successful from an economic development standpoint, creating all of the jobs promised,” said Gural, who added that he’s not ungrateful for his Tioga Downs license. “The real losers are the owners of the casinos who are not making the profit” they anticipated. Kevin Law, who chaired the state board that selected the upstate casino sites, was not available for an interview. “New York went into this regional resort-casino market long after that trend had been exhausted in this country,” Barrow said. “Globally, the trend is big mega-casinos in major cities. They should have just put a big one in New York City to be better positioned to compete against other forms of entertainment and to attract customers who don’t want drive 90 miles.” Building casinos in urban centers helps entice gamers of all ages, unlike the upstate New York market, where casinos are cannibalizing each other’s older customers, said S&P Global Ratings analyst Timothy Little. “Millennials tend to move toward larger population and urban centers, away from some of the more rural parts of the state where New York’s casinos are,” said Little, who co-authored a recent report on Northeast casino saturation. “It’s unclear to what extent these (New York gaming) facilities will draw consumers living in other states and abroad.” Sullivan County’s soon-to-open casino, located on 1,700 acres of the former Concord Resort property, is $600 million less expensive and twice as far from New York City as a failed 2014 Tuxedo bid would have been. Like Resorts World Catskills, the Tuxedo application came from Malaysian-Chinese casino magnate K.T. Lim. He also financially rescued Resorts World Catskills’ parent, Monticello Raceway owner Empire Resorts, from a potential bankruptcy in 2009 after it lost $38.4 million in 2007 and 2008, according to public filings. And he’s kept it afloat since. Lim is a key part of the family trust that owns Kien Huat Realty, an investment company that is the majority shareholder in Empire Resorts and Genting Berhad. The latter is part of the Genting Group, a $37 billion Malaysian gaming, biotech and palm oil conglomerate. Under a branding agreement with Genting, Sullivan County’s casino is using Genting’s “Resorts World” name, though it’s technically not a Genting casino. Colossal casino competition Although a 2014 Tuxedo casino proposal faced controversy for its potential effects on Sterling Forest, gaming experts said a site closer to New York City would’ve been assured success. Eller agreed. Resorts World Catskills “would be a hell of a lot easier if we were closer to our core market,” of New York City, said Eller, 42, who led the Tuxedo project’s application before taking Empire Resorts’ helm last year. A former Marine major, a Harvard MBA, and a 12-year gaming industry veteran, Eller is overseeing a 1,400-employee Resorts World Catskills entertainment complex that will eventually grow to 2,200 workers and $1.2 billion. That’ll occur by the end of 2019, when the $150 million-plus, 600-employee Kartrite Hotel & Indoor Waterpark opens. Regardless of location, for new casino properties like Resorts World Catskills to succeed, they must diversify well beyond gaming, said David G. Schwartz, the director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “Once you could just put out quarter slot machines, but that’s not enough,” Schwartz said. “So, now they have to put much more emphasis on dining and entertainment options.” That’s exactly what Connecticut’s Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have done. Foxwoods’ Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, and Mario Kontomerkos, CEO of Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, said they’ve had to expand their amenities to remain competitive over the past decade. As the Northeast has grown more competitive, each casino has taken giant revenue hits since fiscal 2006-07, when Mohegan Sun raked in $916.4 million in slots revenue and Foxwoods brought home $805.5 million. By 2016-17, those totals had fallen to $602.3 million and $457.5 million, respectively, according to state of Connecticut data. Las Vegas model The two tribes pioneered the Las Vegas model in the Northeast. With funding from K.T. Lim’s father, Lim Goh Tong, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe heavily built up Foxwoods in Ledyard, Conn., in 1992 and ’93. Nearby, the Mohegan Tribe developed Mohegan Sun in Uncasville three years later. Northeast competitors have mushroomed ever since to emulate the Connecticut casinos’ success. To remain relevant, Connecticut’s casinos have morphed into cities unto themselves. With 9 million square feet, Foxwoods is larger than the Pentagon, and just 340,000 square feet is reserved for gaming. The rest goes toward dining, lodging, retail and recreational options. Mohegan Sun’s similar-size gaming floor is complemented by two luxury hotel towers totaling 1,563 rooms, a 10,000-seat arena, 275,000 square feet of meeting and function space and more than 40 restaurants, bars and lounges. Foxwoods has “put over $3 billion in the ground over 25 years, and it’s probably closer to $5 billion adjusted for inflation,” Butler said. “We know the (Lim) family well, and Resorts World Catskills will be a great property,” he added. “They’re brilliant operators, and the partnership with the (Kartrite) indoor water park is a great idea. But our market has shifted (to New England), so we’re not too concerned with what you’re doing in the Catskills.” Given how different Northeast casinos are, it’s simplistic to ask whether the casino market is saturated, said Jeremy Kleiman, a veteran New Jersey gaming lawyer. Foxwoods’ and Mohegan Sun’s leaders agreed. They say they’re in an elite class competing for whales. Or as Mohegan Sun’s Kontomerkos put it, “Walmarts compete against Walmarts and Nordstroms compete against Nordstroms.” At Resorts World Catskills, Eller too aspires to create a “destination resort casino” full of amenities, as opposed to the convenience gaming offered by racinos like Resorts World Casino New York City at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. Yet even without table games, that Queens property – owned by K.T. Lim under his Genting Berhad umbrella – could compete with Resorts World Catskills. Resorts World Casino New York City averages a strong $404 in revenue per day for each slot machine, and Lim is currently expanding the New York City complex by $400 million, adding a hotel, restaurants, retail and more slots. To help Resorts World Catskills succeed, Roberta Byron-Lockwood, president and CEO of the Sullivan Catskills tourism bureau, plans to aggressively market the property as “a full-fledged, full-service, four-season, multi-attraction destination casino, appealing not only to New York and other states, but also to international visitors, and those from the Pacific Rim.” Marc Baez, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, touted the same marketing approach. He said Resorts World Catskills will thrive by building on the Catskills’ history of resorts, while capitalizing on local assets like Bethel Woods, the planned Town of Goshen Legoland and the future Yo1 Lifestyle Wellness Resort in Monticello. “We’ll pretty much have something to do for everybody,” Baez said. Eller is the first to admit his won’t be the biggest, highest-earning casino in the Northeast. But he said it has “the right investment and strategy as an integrated resort and the right revenue estimates” to create new gaming receipts beyond merely cannibalizing existing regional totals. Like Gural, who owns Tioga Downs, Eller said Resorts World Catskills’ success will be “built on relationships, and that has nothing to do with the distance,” because high-rollers have the means to travel most anywhere. But there is at least one key difference between the two casino leaders. Eller is more likely to greet whales in a power suit than orange Crocs and jeans. “Are people from the New York metro area going to drive 90 to 100 miles to go play table games” at Resorts World Catskills? Eller asked. “The reality is they already do, they go to Atlantic City. They go to Connecticut. They go to Vegas.” “We’re built on a Las Vegas casino model where there’s entertainment all the time,” Eller added. “You should feel like you’re stepping into a casino in Las Vegas.” By Daniel Axelrod  Reprinted with permission of The Times Herald-Record

Here is a letter from Anthony MacDonald of TheStable regarding the contoversy around the pending new harness racing owners rule put together by Jeff Gural and Woodbine Entertainment. Here is the letter; I can't even go away for a week without all hell breaking loose. I woke up yesterday to the largest unread inbox I've had in a very long time. Those of you who know me, know roughly how many emails I generally receive, so the endless comments and questions about "the rule" drowned out even our clients for a good chunk of the morning. I think I even saw a dirty look from the guy wearing the goofy costume at magic kingdom who was surely judging me as that "guy" who answers emails at Disney world all day. My answer to the rule from Mr Horner and Mr Gural is simple, but not: Yes we have some dark corners of this game. What facet of life doesn't? We race for money, and there are going to be cheaters; how we combat this defines us as an industry. We will not be able to build any future in horse racing by looking to the past for direction. The past got us here, and it is not where we need to be. These "draconian measures" will surely lead to lawsuits and more black marks on our industry that we cannot afford. The overwhelming majority of this industry is not considered cheaters. Yet we are willing to partake in a witch hunt not seen since McCarthyism to smoke out this miniscule portion of the industry. The first time we get it wrong and someone is excluded only to be later exonerated you will find this story in the main stream news and in a court room only further validating the general publics reasoning for not investing in this industry. The stigmas most of us work hard to dismiss will only be affirmed by this direction. We cannot focus on growth and investment in this industry by shrinking it. If you have mice in your house you do not burn your house down. Extermination is handled in various forms but none damage the structure of your home. Under this rule our industry owners will inevitability claw back investment. They will not partake in group investing programs, (fractional or otherwise) and yearling sale revenue will most certainly drop. The smaller trainers who are already in peril will feel the pinch the most, and again our industry will contract. Do NOT think the governments will not notice this contraction, and as growth again slows and retreats as it has over the past decade, so to will government investment and subsidies. It was difficult to write this for me. My closet in not "Skeleton free". Many of you are well aware that my wife is in the final stages of class II medication violation proceedings for levels of alcohol found in a 2 years old filly this summer that were contamination level readings. I myself served a 7 day reduced suspension just after Christmas for an error made by our veterinarian regarding jurisdictional withdrawal times in Ohio. Neither would exclude our stable under the new rule but plenty of other trainers in the past have also found themselves in similar situations with the Aminorex positives of the past, the Glaucine and Ractopomine positives more recently. Of course you start under this rule with a clean slate, but contamination positives will not cease to occur and its only a matter of when not if improper exclusion will occur. I believe with proper checks and balances most of this industry would get behind a rule like this. But not in its current form. This rule has fallen short of what our industry should strive for. Inclusiveness and industry growth above all else should far outweigh the pursuit of a small group of bandits. I'm not saying turn a blind eye, I'm saying build an air tight policy that the industry can get behind. Through consultation with industry stake holders and regulators we can all take a stance together on behavior that is harming our industry. I'm not expecting, or asking to be invited to any consultation meetings, but I hope my words are noticed. I represent just under 400 owners in 10 countries and have introduced many people to horse racing over the past 3 years. I applaud the efforts and hard work of Mr Gural and Mr Horner on this. No one seems to be too concerned about integrity these days and this rule speaks for the people who didn't get their picture taken. The foundation of something great is before us, I ask only again that we use consultation from our own industry stake holders to ensure we get it right. With respect, Anthony MacDonald

The following letter was submitted by harness racing owner Howard Taylor. It seems that the industry is not concerned, but I believe that everyone in harness racing should be up in arms over the recent announcement from the partnership of Jeff Gural and WEG. For those who live in a cocoon, these entities have announced that they will bar owners of horses from participating at their tracks if one of their horses tests positive for a class 1 or 2 medication, as well as a TCO2 or steroid positive. In this day and age of advanced testing at microscopic, nonperformance enhancing levels, it is non just likely, but probable that many innocents will suffer. Imagine you were a small time trainer, in the business all your life with marginal success. You finally get the big horse you wanted for all your life. You have him prepped for the Meadowlands Pace or North America Cup. But days before you enter, one of the owners of your horse has a trainer in another state, who you never met, receive a positive for a class 2 substance at 5 Picograms (Billionth of a gram). Your horse is now barred from the race. How about the big owner with horses in many different barns, with many different partners. A trainer gets a positive with a horse you never heard of, but which is owned by someone whom you have only marginal dealings. You may have never met him (think fractional ownership) BARRED! You wonder how this is legal as you make your stakes payments faithfully, and the track accepted them. However, the courts have rules that this is legal. They own the tracks so they can make the Rules. They can even change them on a whim as we have seen them do, when it affects their interests adversely. They not only believe that they can dictate terms, but also how you can race. I used to own a small part of Lady Shadow. She regularly beat most horses, including one name Solar Sister. Solar Sister is owned by Clay Horner, Chairman of the Board of WEG. Two weeks before last years Roses Are Red Stake, I received a call from Jaime Martin, the Director of Racing. He told me that he was being pressured to not allow her to participate while she was trained by Ron Adams. He suggested that we switch trainers. I asked if Adams was barred and he acknowledged that Ron regularly raced there. He indicated that she would likely be barred if Adams trained her at the time of entry. Against my suggested we gave in and switched barns. Incredibly, Ron Adams was allowed to race another horse in the same race. These people are petty and vengeful. They are intent on ruining the sport they claim to be saving. In his announcement, Clay Horner couldn't help himself but to cite Lady Shadow as an example of conduct he is seeking to correct. Yet, Lady Shadow was found with an excessive level of Clenbuterol, a Class 3 substance, and thus would not have been affected by the Rule. Traditionally, horsemen don't get involved until it affects them or their pockets. This Rules is so far reaching that it likely will affect many. Unfortunately, by then it will be too late. Horsemen must do something now, before it is too late. We should just refuse to stake horses to races they control. We should avoid the entry box at their tracks. Turn on them before they turn on you. I personally own a lot of horses with many different trainers. Some I have no control over. But, I have asked my trainers to avoid racing at Freehold North (The Meadowlands) when possible. I have several top caliber horses which will not be staked to races controlled by these egomaniacs. And, if it does affect me personally, I will simply exit the business. Forewarned is forearmed. Horsemen beware! Howard Taylor,  Philadelphia, PA  

ALBANY – An upstate harness racing track said it will not open as planned later this month because of increased competition from casinos in the area. Vernon Downs in central New York was set to start its harness racing season April 21, but the opening is being delayed because of “significant financial losses” due to the addition of new casinos in the region, said the track‘s owner Jeff Gural. Vernon Downs is one of eight racetracks in New York with video-lottery terminals, and Gural also owns Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier that switched to a full-scale casino in December. “It is extremely unfortunate, but we have no other choice than to postpone the opening day of racing at Vernon Downs,” Gural said in a statement. “The property loses money on racing, so opening racing now only makes a bad situation worse.” Gural said Vernon Downs would reopen if it gets a better tax rate from the state as it faces increased competition from casino expansions by the Oneidas, the American Indian tribe that owns the sprawling Turning Stone Casino and Resort nearby, as well as the Yellow Brick Road Casino closer to Syracuse. The Oneidas are also planning Meanwhile, to the west, the del Lago Casino in the Finger Lakes opened in February. When the third Oneidas casino opens next year, there will be 10 gambling sites between Albany and Batavia. With 767 video-lottery terminals, Vernon Downs has long battled against Turning Stone, which is just 6 miles away. But the additional competition has taken an increasing toll on the racetrack, which is looking to start its 64th  season of harness racing. The track‘s revenue Gural said the track, which has about 300 jobs, has been losing about $150,000 a month since November. Gural‘s announcement comes after a new tax deal for the track wasn‘t included in the state budget, which was approved Sunday. “Lowering the tax rate is a way that New York can ensure that properties like Vernon Downs that do not have table games can remain competitive and continue to be an asset within the community,” he said. There was no immediate comment from the state Gaming Commission on Gural‘s decision. Vernon Downs isn‘t the only track seeking a better deal from the state. Batavia Downs because of the increased competition in western New York, and Finger Lakes Racing & Gaming got a new tax deal last year because of neighboring del Lago. Reprinted with permission of The Luxora Leader

NICHOLS, N.Y. - What started as gaming machines and harness racing and then a full-fledge casino, Tioga Downs has completed its journey to become a resort destination. A ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony was held Friday for the new hotel at Tioga Downs, making it the Tioga Downs Casino and Resort. The six-story 161-room hotel includes a full-service AgeLess Spa, fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, two rooftop decks, an events center with banquet and reception that can accommodate 400 people. In addition, the hotel has a PJ Clarke's Restaurant serving burgers in a speakeasy-style atmosphere. Owner Jeff Gural says he wants people near and far to enjoy all the amenities the new hotel has to offer. "It's beautiful.  Hopefully we'll be able to accomplish our goal to make it a resort for people from outside the are who are visiting Corning Glass, Watkins Glen or the wineries.  Now, they have a beautiful resort to stay at," said Gural. Gural thanked the community along with the many legislators and lawmakers in attendance for supporting his endeavor, especially when Del Lago was chosen as the Southern Tier casino location. The conference center will hold its first event tomorrow with a fundraiser for the United Way. Reprinted with permission of The Binghamton News  

VERNON — Vernon Downs owner Jeff Gural wants to reduce the number of slot machines at the casino and racetrack facility from 750 to about 550, among plans for 2018, according to online reports including The change would make the venue more spacious and inviting for customers, said Gural, who also noted that the racino’s catering business could undergo some changes that could generate more revenues. Vernon Downs survived the 2017 harness racing season because the amount of taxes on generated gaming revenues was reduced by the state, Gural said in the report. The site offers harness racing typically from April to November, and slot machines over the entire year. Harness racing has concluded for the season. The tax reduction by the state saved 300 jobs, and Vernon Downs saved $10 million-$12 million usually paid to the state as education support, said. In addition, $2 million in taxes to Oneida County and the town of Vernon were part of the savings. Gural said he expects to break even or generate a small profit at Vernon Downs in 2017 thanks to the tax reduction, added. In June, the state agreed to cut the racino taxes on slot machine revenues after Gural said he was losing between $150,000 and $200,000 per month at Vernon Downs. Reprinted with permission of The Rome Sentinel

I am writing this response to a letter written by Joe Faraldo to HarnessLink. First of all, I feel qualified to respond because of the fact that I am president of Harness Horsemen International and past president of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey.  The first thing that comes to my mind is this senseless vendetta that Joe has with Jeff Gural. I think Joe is an intelligent man, who truly has done his best to help the horse people at Yonkers Raceway, but I think in his letter he has his facts all wrong about Jeff's motives. He has taken Jeff's comments way out of context.  Let me begin by saying that the Jeff I know is honest, well meaning, and loyal to a fault. I am going to start from the beginning.   We raised $100,000 through a fundraiser by the horsemen of New Jersey for the then candidate for New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, based on his promises of how he was going to help our industry.  But after he was elected, Christie proceeded to tell me at a very early date, that we had 24 hours to come up with eight million dollars [$8 million] or he was going to shut down the Sports Authority racing facilities, which meant the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park would close immediately. I thought of only one person that I knew who could help, Jeff Gural, if he was so inclined. I proceeded to call him and tell him of our predicament. Without hesitation he told me he would meet me in Trenton the next morning.  As it turns out, Jeff was able to make a deal with the state to keep the Meadowlands open.    What is interesting about all of this, is that Jeff never thought or knew anything about a possible casino. Jeff's only thought was to save our horsemen and our industry from a sudden tragic end.  To address Joe Faraldo's comments that Jeff was saying that he did a favor for a couple of horsemen is ludicrous. He did it for all of us and the industry which he loves.  He saved harness racing for without the Meadowlands there would be no racing in New Jersey or,  for that matter, most racing in this country would probably succumb.    I sometimes wonder why some people want to take something good and turn it into something bad for their own gratification  Joe took Jeff's comments way out of context.  I don't care how you look at it, the Meadowlands is a success, especially when you look at the surrounding racinos with all their slot money.  They don't wager half of what the Meadowlands does without any help from the slot money, good horses, or many of the top drivers. I am not saying that horsemen should not think about themselves or their families, but don't act or think that Jeff did this solely for his own monetary enhancement, because he stepped up to the plate initially to save our industry.   So whenever you read the articles that criticize Jeff, remember (A) maybe someone has an axe to grind and (B) when you are racing at the Meadowlands some night, you probably wouldn't be there if it wasn't for Jeff Gural.  I know that many of you, including myself at times, don't agree with all of Jeff's decisions, but they all come from his love of the game and what he thinks is best.  So I am taking this time to thank him and all the GRATEFUL horsemen and women who can still enjoy making a living at what they love at the Meadowlands.  Sincerely, Thomas F. Luchento

Jeff Gural says he would not have built the new Meadowlands investing $40,000,000 of his own money, if he knew at the time that harness racing drivers George Brennan and Brian Sears would leave the Meadowlands to race at Yonkers Raceway. President of The Standardbred Owners Association of New York, Joseph Faraldo responds to Jeff Gural's claims, that were printed in a recent Harness Racing Update. Here is his letter; I just read in Harness Racing Update that Jeff Gural claims that his motivation in investing so much money (his or others; I’m not sure) to keep The Meadowlands open was that he was doing George Brennan and Brian Sears a “favor”. Does anyone naively think that this investment was made other than because there was a potential to make a great deal of money and enjoy increased personal wealth from a North Jersey Casino?  This is beyond comical; Jeff writes to HRU that he was investing in a racetrack because he wanted to especially do these two guys a favor. According to him, "Had I known, I doubt I would have taken the risk as I thought I was doing them a favor". Doing them a favor! Give me a break! After the amusement wore off, it gave me pause to consider who was he doing a favor for when he invested in the shuttered quarter horse track at Tioga Downs?  If not for himself, then for whom?  And why wasn’t such an investment made long before the air was filling with talk of Racinos coming to New York? The Investment clearly was for a potential Tioga Racino. If this was nothing more than a “favor” as well, the scream heard when a casino for Tioga was initially rejected puts serious doubts to that premise. Similarly, Vernon was an Investment made for a Racino, and hopefully a Casino, and again one has to wonder who was being done a favor for them? While a Racino materialized at Vernon, which was only five miles from the Oneida Casino, a subsequent Indian compact precluded there ever being a Casino at Vernon. Recently, the mantra then shifted to, ‘I’ll close the Racino and the Racetrack unless the horsemen agree to cut days (sound familiar) and/or I get $2 million dollars in tax relief, otherwise horsemen, the industry and government will suffer.’ Curiously, it was Jeff himself who publically stated that Vernon would be fine if Tioga was ever given the very Casino he demanded. So far, The Albany Times Union has written two Editorials pointing to the irony that Jeff as an advocate for Casino legislation in New York was now its chief protestor, because the very Casino Legislation he championed was hurting his bottom line.  The Oneida Indian Casino was five miles away from Vernon from day one, and the threatened closure has helped drive the Vernon VLT players away. Players at Vernon have lost confidence in the payouts offered, erroneously thinking that the VLT machines will not pay out the mandated percentages, and they have apparently returned to the reservation. The VLTs at Vernon are down some 17%. Ask for Casinos and cannibalize the market. One has to conclude, as has been widely reported, that the present Casinos are underperforming, simply because there are too many. I guess for one person, the one doing everybody else a “favor” only one NY Casino would have been OK. Getting back to doing favors, The Meadowlands scenario is no different than Tioga or Vernon. None were Investments for horsemen, whether individually, collectively or as an industry. The investment was done to make a personal score. Selling this as doing anyone or any entity a favor has been pretty well sold to the industry. Make no mistake about it; all these track acquisitions are calculated business decisions, pure and simple. Nonetheless, it amuses me that one has the audacity to write that favors were being done for any individual or individuals as the rationale that motivated these acquisitions. A big favor is being done for sure; for one person, and one person only. After what Jeff did to both George Brennan and Brian Sears in individual, separate tirades at The Meadowlands, it becomes apparent that in Jeff’s mind it was the horsemen who were supposed to be doing Jeff the “favor”, by giving him convenient cover. Once George, Brian and others took their talent and skills elsewhere, and The Big M was rendered an abbreviated meet, a class B track, Jeff was left without a plausible argument for his “sacrifices” for an “industry”. The only sacrifice Jeff has made is his Investment “on the come”, for an East Rutherford Casino; and the only “Industry” he truly cares about is his own. It’s high time Jeff is called out for his opportunistic ways, for which he shamelessly invokes the names of our industry’s best. While calling him out invites further vilification our Industry’s best and all the others who speak out don’t need any more “favors” from this guy! Joseph Faraldo

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