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ALBANY -- In 2003, New York's racetracks were paying out among the lowest prizes in the nation, and many of the tracks, particularly upstate harness racing facilities, were nearly set to be put out to pasture. Then the racetracks started adding video-lottery terminals. Now, the purses -- the amount paid out to winners in the races -- are among the highest in the nation, and the revenue at the so-called racinos has also soared. With three new upstate casinos opening in recent months, the state's existing gaming halls face new competition after enjoying years of rising revenue for their casino-like facilities and horse-racing operations, a review of records by the USA Today Network's Albany Bureau found. Purses at New York's seven harness tracks have tripled over the past 14 years, creating an unprecedented dynamic: There's nearly no one in the stands, but the prize money is at levels not seen in decades. "I’ve said to many people that if you want to make money in (harness) racing, this is the best opportunity you’ve had in many, many years," said Bob Galterio, the COO at Yonkers Raceway, the state's largest harness track. ►NY just had a record year for its lottery ►With three new NY casinos open, can they succeed? ►House wins big with casino tax breaks Ninety-two percent of the money from gamblers at the state's racetracks with the video-lottery terminals goes to pay the players as prizes. The key figure is the 8 percent that's left: It is split among the tracks, the horsemen and the state. Without the piece that goes to purses and breeders, horse racing in New York would be nearly non-existent, track officials and experts said. The industry is a major one in New York's agricultural sector: It employs 32,000 people, according to its trade organizations. "If the VLTs didn’t come in 2004, I really doubt racing would be here," said Chris Riegle, the president of Finger Lakes Gaming and Racing, the only upstate thoroughbred track outside of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course. Also, "I don’t think there would be very many harness tracks in New York." Avoiding closures Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, then-Gov. George Pataki and state lawmakers sought to help the state's economy by allowing the horse tracks to add video-lottery terminals -- the slot-machine-like devices controlled by a central computer system in Schenectady. The move was a way to boost the state's coffers by designating about half of that coveted 8 percent to fund schools. It also was a way to keep horse racing alive after decades of decline in the sport, which was once a major local draw. Batavia Downs in western New York is the oldest nighttime harness track in the nation. Yonkers drew 40,000 people on weekend nights in the 1960s. In 2004, the first VLT facilities opened. It has been a boon to all sides. "It definitely saved racing; it saved the jobs," said Jeff Gural, the owner of Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier and Vernon Downs in central New York. Of the net win -- the money left in the machines after payouts to winners -- 8.75 percent goes to the horsemen and 1.25 percent to the breeders. The rest is split between the state and racinos. The tracks also get 10 percent for marketing and 4 percent for facility improvements -- including hotels that some are building. The money has helped the state's coffers: The racinos contributed nearly $1 billion in 2015 to the state designated for education -- or 48 percent of the nearly $2 billion in net win. Anthony Palermo, of Rochester, plays a slot machine on opening day of del Lago Casino.  (Photo: Jamie Germano/@jgermano1/Staff Photographer)   Soaring purses The purses at the state's eight racetracks and the three tracks run by the New York Racing Association hit $301 million in 2015 -- up 87 percent since 2003. For just the seven harness tracks, purses went from $35 million to $118 million, records from the state Gaming Commission showed. So the average purse per race went from about $4,000 to $11,000 over the 14 years -- putting New York among the top five in the nation. The figures have been extraordinary at some tracks: Batavia Downs' purses grew from $1.8 million to $5.5 million; from $4 million to $18 million at Saratoga harness; and from $20 million to nearly $63 million to Yonkers. Some tracks said they are dealing with a shortage of horses. "If you and four friends had $20,000. The best thing to do is to get together, each kick in $4,000 and buy a $20,000 claimer and race it at Yonkers Racetrack," Galterio said. "The purses are so good. You race every week." Rising racinos While the gambling money has throw life preserver to racing, it also boosted the tracks' owners. The money going to the racinos has skyrocketed since they opened. The tracks, after a sluggish start, negotiated lower payments to the state in 2007. At Finger Lakes, the so-called agent commission -- the tracks' main revenue stream -- doubled to $40 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year that ended March 31. At Yonkers, it was up 50 percent to $177 million since 2008, while Tioga Downs' commission grew 59 percent since 2007 to $22 million. So while the purses are up, so too are the tracks' fortunes, said Joe Faraldo, president of the state's Standardbred Owners Association, which represents the harness horsemen. "The horsemen, their purses have gone up dramatically -- the same way track revenue has gone up with these VLTs," Faraldo said. Live harness racing at Batavia Downs. (Photo: Annette Lein)   Subsidizing racing So the situation has created a scenario where purses are up despite fewer people betting on the races. Yonkers stopped publishing its attendance figures in the late 1980s. VLT revenue provides an increasing percentage of the purses: In 2004, 50 percent of the purses came from the VLT revenue; in 2011, it was 71 percent, state records show. At the same time, total handle at the harness tracks -- the amount bet on the races -- dropped 21 percent between 2003 and 2015, hurt in part by the closure of New York City Off-Track Betting in 2010. The on-track betting on the races also fell: It was down 56 percent at Yonkers over that stretch and down from $3.4 million to $1.5 million at Batavia. Most of the betting comes from simulcasting of races around the state, country and internationally, which is a growing business at Yonkers, in particular. "I don’t want to say it’s become a television studio, but it more important to produce a good-looking television signal than to have tasty hot dogs in the stands," Galterio said. Growing competition The reliance on VLT revenue has raised concerns within the racing industry, which fears the tracks will one day seek to drop racing or cut the amount that goes to it. "A lot of these racinos kind of make it difficult to go to the track, because they would rather be a straight casino and not do racing at all," Assembly Racing Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon, said. Those fears have grown after the casinos opened in recent months in the Finger Lakes and Schenectady, with one set to open next year in the Catskills. At Finger Lakes, it received a lower tax rate last year because of the competition from del Lago, which opened earlier this month in Tyre, Seneca County, 28 miles away. Even with the competition, though, the horsemen will be held harmless. The 2013 law that allowed for four upstate casinos included a provision that requires the new casinos to keep purses at the same level as 2013 -- if the new casinos cut into the racinos' bottom line.  (Photo: File photo)   Negotiating at Finger Lakes That's a current fight: The horsemen at Finger Lakes face a cut in purses if the racino's revenue drops because of del Lago, which is not required to make the track whole. The casinos have to help the racetracks in the zones established by the state: Finger Lakes, though, is outside the del Lago zone. The sides -- Finger Lakes, del Lago and the state -- are now trying to find a solution to help the horsemen. "I’m hopeful we’ll come to a conclusion very quickly," Riegle said. Pretlow said the Legislature has no plans to revisit the split of revenue between the tracks and the racing industry: "Part of this whole thing is to help racing." The tracks said they continue to invest in their racing, saying it is still a viable portion of their business. Yonkers points to expansion in recent years of hosting major stakes races, including the $1 million International Trot each fall; tracks said they have upgraded their racing facilities. But the tracks often seek fewer racing dates each year, despite protests from the industry, and Finger Lakes won't disclose how many dates it wants this year as it negotiates a new contract with its horsemen. "It really boils down to how much purse money you have to hand out and how many horses you have," Riegle at Finger Lakes said. "If you have a respectable amount of both, you can run more." Gaming the future Dave Brown, president of the Finger Lakes horsemen association, charged that the tracks would just as soon drop racing if they could, but they are bound by the state law. "There is no question they’d love to not run. And they make it difficult for us," he said. Riegle rejected that idea, saying it is still "a pretty significant piece" of the business. Gural, a horse owner who also owns the Meadowlands track in northern New Jersey, said he's concerned about the future of racing in New York. The tracks are not required to market the sport to new customers, and its fan base is dwindling. In December, Tioga Downs received a gaming license to turn from a VLT facility to a full-scale casino. "Without the slots or the VLTs, there would be no harness racing. It’s totally dependent on the revenue we receive from the slots," Gural said. He added, "The problem is that most of our customers are older and we have not successfully created an industry for the younger generation. So what happens when all those people die off?" Joseph Spector , Albany Bureau Chief Reprinted with permission of The Democrat and Chronicle

The New York State Gaming Commission today took unprecedented action against six Standardbred trainers who administered potentially dangerous and performance-enhancing doses of cobalt to race horses in violation of Commission racing rules. Harness trainers Tyler J. Nostadt, Joseph Carrubba, Dennis M. Washington, Sean M. Campbell, Megan M. Gilmour and Dawn M. DeVaux have been suspended immediately by the Commission and face significant additional sanctions. Horses trained by Nostadt, Carrubba and Washington were found to contain cobalt at egregious enough levels to warrant minimum 10-year bans from the sport for those trainers. The six trainers’ violations occurred at Monticello Casino and Raceway, Saratoga Casino and Raceway and Yonkers Raceway in March 2016. The Commission will refer these matters to appropriate law enforcement for contemplation of animal cruelty charges. “The Commission has found multiple harness horse trainers exhibiting reckless disregard for horse health and safety in the name of trying to gain unfair advantages,” said Commission Executive Director Robert Williams. “They are being held accountable for their actions.” According to New York State Equine Medical Director Scott E. Palmer, VMD, low levels of cobalt, a naturally-occurring element with properties similar to those of iron and nickel, are present in all horses and are not considered to be harmful. It can be found in many horse feeds and vitamin supplements. However, according to Dr. Palmer, there is no therapeutic reason to administer large doses of cobalt to horses. Administration of high doses of cobalt salts to horses has the potential to enhance athletic performance in a manner similar to blood doping agents and can cause detrimental effects on a number of body systems, including tachycardia, hypertension and cardiac arrhythmias. The Commission’s rules mandate that any Standardbred trainer whose horse is found to have cobalt levels at more than 50 ng/ml in plasma is considered to be in violation and subject to applicable penalties (rule 4120.3(a)(4)). The Commission rules further mandate that any trainer whose horse is found to have cobalt levels at more than 300 ng/ml is to receive a 10-year suspension, plus whatever other penalties are appropriate (rules 4120.3(c) and 4120.17(d)(2)). Tyler J. Nostadt raced five horses at Yonkers and Monticello in violation of the Commission’s rule in regard to cobalt: · Monticello, March 15; “JJ Romero;” cobalt blood concentration of 374 ng/ml on race day · Monticello, March 15; “Omaha Survivor;” cobalt blood concentration of 376 ng/ml on race day · Yonkers, March 24; “Knocking Around;” cobalt blood concentration of 361 ng/ml on race day · Yonkers, March 24; “Firstclassflight;” cobalt blood concentration of 819 ng/ml on race day · Yonkers, March 24; “Magic Manny;” cobalt blood concentration of 661 ng/ml on race day Nostadt is summarily suspended, effective immediately. Per Commission rules, he faces a 10-year license suspension or revocation and a $25,000 fine per incident. Joseph Carrubba raced one horse at Saratoga Casino and Raceway and subsequently attempted to race it and another horse in violation of the Commission’s rule in regard to cobalt: · March 4; “Our Angel Hayleigh;” cobalt blood concentration of 497 ng/ml on race day · March 22; “Our Angel Hayleigh;” cobalt blood concentration of 1179 ng/ml (out-of-competition test); horse was scratched · March 22; “Post Time Terror;” cobalt blood level 604 ng/ml (out-of-competition test); horse was scratched Carrubba is summarily suspended, effective immediately. Per Commission rules, he faces a 10-year license suspension or revocation and a $25,000 fine for the race day violation and additional suspension, revocation and fines for the out-of-competition violations. Dennis M. Washington raced “Baltimor AS” at Monticello on March 16 with a cobalt blood level of 1195 ng/ml on race day in violation of the Commission’s rule in regard to cobalt. Washington is summarily suspended, effective immediately. Per Commission rules, he faces a 10-year license suspension or revocation and a $25,000 fine for the violation. Sean M. Campbell raced five horses at Monticello and Yonkers in violation of the Commission’s rule in regard to cobalt: · March 14, Monticello; “H.D. Maibach;” cobalt blood level 162 ng/ml on race day · March 15, Monticello; “HD’s Dream Boy;” cobalt blood level 95 ng/ml on race day · March 21, Yonkers; “HD’s Dream Boy;” cobalt blood level 185 ng/ml on race day · March 22, Monticello; “Fly By Ry;” cobalt blood level 126 ng/ml on race day · March 23, Monticello; “HD Lucas;” cobalt blood level 85 ng/ml on race day Campbell is summarily suspended, effective immediately. Per Commission rules, he faces further suspension or revocation and $25,000 fines for each violation. Megan M. Gilmour raced “Slam Dunk Hanover” at Monticello on March 17 with a cobalt blood level of 169 ng/ml on race day in violation of the Commission’s rule in regard to cobalt. Further investigation revealed other evidence that horses she was training and racing had been administered excessive amounts of cobalt. Gilmour is summarily suspended, effective immediately. Per Commission rules, she faces further suspension or revocation and a $25,000 fine for the violation. Dawn M. DeVaux raced “Southwind Ike” at Monticello on March 22 with a cobalt blood level of 289 ng/ml on race day in violation of the Commission’s rule in regard to cobalt. DeVaux is summarily suspended, effective immediately. Per Commission rules, she faces further suspension or revocation and a $25,000 fine for the violation. Additionally, the Commission continues to investigate the circumstances of more than 30 post-race samples with elevated levels of the alkaloid glaucine in Standardbred racehorses. This investigation includes researching claims of environmental contamination. Should the New York State Equine Drug Testing Laboratory’s research determine that glaucine was administered intentionally to harness horses, the Commission will take significant action against those involved. As with all cases where equine drug violations occur: · All affected horses have been disqualified and must test “clean” before racing again. · The Commission has ordered the owners of these horses to return any purses won in these races. “The Commission’s mission to preserve the integrity of New York’s horse racing continues unabated,” said Williams. “We will continue to use all tools necessary, including state-of-the-art race day and out-of-competition testing, surveillance and intelligence-gathering to rid our sport of those who cheat and jeopardize the welfare of horses.” Each trainer will be provided with a prompt hearing and opportunity to present a defense to the charges. Hearings are conducted de novo and final agency action will be based on the evidence presented at each hearing. From Rick Karlin from the Capital Bureau

The New York State Racing and Wagering Board has formed the NY State Task Force on Retired Racehorses and held a Summit on the topic at the Fasig Tipton Pavilion in Saratoga Springs, NY on September 1st. There were five panels comprised of representatives of the NY Racing Assoc.; Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance; Thoroughbred Charities of America; several racetracks; several horsesmens associations; the NY State Racing and Wagering Board; horse adoption programs; and the United States Trotting Association (USTA).   The Standardbred Retirement Foundation (SRF), Sunshine Horses, Jeff Gural, and the USTA spoke in the early afternoon after digesting the massive efforts the Thoroughbred industry has implemented and the hefty funding charities receive from the industry. Monies raised from percentages, and dollar amounts of mandatory and voluntary contributions from starting fees, jockey fees, purses, and contributions fund the numerous programs.   The Thoroughbred typically has a market after racing, as they are popular in the riding arena, whereas, the Standardbred does not. SRF noted that the average time a Standardbred horse will last in an adoptive home is just 3.3 years and that should trigger a warning to the charities to do follow-up. None of the charities receiving funds have an active follow-up program for Standardbreds; SRF and Sunshine horses do, however, neither receive funds from these initiatives. "We need to make sure we are doing the right thing," said Judy Bokman, SRF's Executive Director. "Maybe the Thoroughbred is more popular as a riding companion and there is not as great a concern for their long-term well being in a home, but for the Standardbred, I keep thinking about what a veterinarian once said to me, "I am not helping any charity that takes horses from the track to avoid a trip to slaughter only to starve in backyards."   It was belittling to follow the talk of the initiatives the Thoroughbred industry has taken when the Standardbred industry has done so little. Jeff Gural sees a solution as slots generate 180 million dollars in NYS each year, "A small percent would solve the problem." Funding was one of the things the Standardbred charities noted as a challenge, the lack of good homes, locations for retired horses to be boarded reasonably to live out their lives, and other locations for the adoption program to operate from were others.   Some horses will find a forever home with all these wonderful strides being made, and the efforts deserve great applause, but there are two items left unsolved. One is helping the unadoptable ones, as it was noted that only adoptable horses receive help, and what to do in time when these horses age in their adopted homes and are no longer wanted. Standardbred Retirement Foundation | 353 Sweetmans Lane, Suite 101 | Millstone Twp. | NJ | 08535

Recently, the New York State Gaming Commission announced that it has promulgated final regulations governing the conduct of Out-of-Competition Testing in harness racing. In light of this announcement, the Empire State Harness Horsemen's Alliance (ESHHA), representing the interests of thousands of owners, trainers and drivers who regularly compete at harness tracks in New York State, wish to make clear its position regarding Out-of-Competition Testing. ESHHA affirms its position that Out-of-Competition Testing can be an effective tool among an arsenal of investigatory and enforcement devices utilized in the furtherance of integrity in racing. ESHHA's concerns are not grounded in the concept of testing horses who are not competing at a certain point in time but rather regulations that are not seen as effective in the fight to control medication abuse. The problem for harness horsemen is the unconstitutional, unscientific, often contradictory and overly broad scope employed by the Gaming Commission in its proposed conduct of the testing. The recently promulgated rules do nothing to ameliorate the potential overall harm to the industry which was contained in proposed regulations the Gaming Commission's predecessor, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, attempted to implement in 2010. That compilation of introduced regulations was challenged by the industry in court, and while a trial level judge struck down the majority of the Racing Board's proposal, the Appellate Division, Third Department was less sympathetic to the horsemen’s concerns. The industry's concerns regarding that original introduction and the specifics of Out-of-Competition Testing in general, will now be heard by the state's highest court, the N.Y.S. Court of Appeals, with oral argument scheduled for mid-November. In sum, ESHHA will continue its attempts to work with the Gaming Commission to establish an Out-of-Competition protocol that is both rational and legal, and continue with equal fervor to resist attempts to implement rules with no basis in law or science. From the SOA of NY

On October 22, 2013, the New York State Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, agreed to hear the  harness horsemen's appeal challenging the state's out-of-competition testing regulations. The court determined that the appeal was as a matter of right.   In August 2011, a Supreme Court Justice in Schenectady, New York determined in Ford et al. v. The New York State Racing and Wagering Board that the regulations were unconstitutional, devoid of due process, were arbitrary and capricious and “so lacking in reason as to require nullification in their entirety.”  In July 2013, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, sitting in Albany, reversed parts of the Schenectady judge's decision. The Court of Appeals will now issue the final ruling as to the legality and enforceability of the rules as they relate to Standardbred racing.   Joseph Faraldo, President of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, one of the petitioners in the lawsuit, commented, "Like the United States Supreme Court, New York's Court of Appeals hears only a very small fraction of the cases presented to it for appeal each year. We are heartened that the court will hear our arguments against the rules in 2014. From the time this process started several years ago, we have always maintained two things. One is that while we need rational and reasonable out-of-competition rules that catch and punish cheaters, we also need to ensure that the innocent are not ensnared in an indiscriminate dragnet. The other is that the rules promulgated over our strenuous and repeated objections are neither rational nor reasonable; are unconstitutional and, in some instances, would actually assist the cheaters to escape scrutiny and justice. We are confident that after our arguments are heard, the high court will reinstate the reasoned decision of the Schenectady Supreme Court."   In addition to the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, the petitioners are USTA director Mark Ford, SOA director and USTA district chairman John Brennan, veteran horseman Richard Banca, Sr. and retired SOA executive director George Casale.   The Petitioners have been represented throughout the proceedings by Andrew J. Turro, Esq. of the law firm Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klien, P.C.   Submitted by the SOA of New York  

The Empire State Harness Horsemen's Alliance group (ESHHA) has sent a letter of objection to John Googas of the New York State Racing Commission, protesting the implimenation of the proposed Commission regulations for harness racing in the state. To view the letter click below: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/2/?ui=2&ik=eae551e2fe&view=att&th=1419de8f60c7c0fd&attid=0.1&disp=safe&zw

When the Governor and the Legislature started discussing efforts last year to expand casino gaming in New York, the state's horse racing and agriculture communities immediately knew they needed to make their voices heard in the debate.

The 'loss leader' is a concept that has been used in business forever. Basically, a product is offered at a price that generates no profit for the sake of generating increased activity. So, if you make a million dollars in sales, but your production costs are a million, you really haven't accomplished a whole heck of a lot.

Passionate New York harness racing blogger and Harnesslink correspondent, Allan Schott believes Lou Pena's win in the New York Supreme Court on Wednesday can be best described as a temporary victory as the decision was not made on the merits of the case, but on technical issues.

It's been 279 days since controversial California harness racing trainer Lou Pena last lined up a horse on race-day. One day after being granted permission to train and own standardbreds again Pena is now seriously thinking about switching codes.

Controversial North American harness racing trainer Lou Pena can train and own racehorses again. The 44-year-old had his licence reinstated today (Wednesday February 27) by the New York Gaming Commission.

In an attempt to reach out directly to racing fans and gather information about their concerns, the New York Racing Fans Advisory Council conducted three public forums during 2012 at Aqueduct, Saratoga Race Course and Yonkers Raceway.

The New York State Racing and Wagering Board today announced the continuation of online video streaming of Thoroughbred and harness racing in New York state throughout the 2013 calendar year.

Controversial Californian harness racing trainer Lou Pena says he has nothing to fear except the egos of well paid men dressed in rich suits who work for the New York State Racing & Wagering Board.

A closer look at the eight New York Sire Stakes divisional leaders and their biggest threats in the harness racing $1.8 million Night of Champions at Yonkers Raceway September 22nd (third of eight parts).

'There are better days ahead. I feel really good about the hearing - confident even. It went well. I have a smile on my face now'. Those were the very words from controversial American harness racing trainer Lou Pena following his three-day trial in New York on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week (August 29-31).

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