by Paul Post
The group International Racing Management, dedicated to attracting new owners to the Thoroughbred industry, wants New York Governor Eliot Spitzer to prevent video gaming at Belmont Park.
Spitzer’s 2008-’09 budget proposal, unveiled last week, calls for authorization of video lottery terminals at Belmont as well as Aqueduct.
Several years ago the state approved legislation allowing for gaming at Aqueduct, but a facility still has not been built there.
“Horsemen everywhere are appalled with your proposal to install VLTs at historic Belmont Park—site of the final leg of the Triple Crown and more Grade 1 races than any track in the world,” IRM President Pamela Stokes Donehower wrote in a January 30 letter to Spitzer.
The governor’s proposal “shows a dearth of appreciation for Belmont Park as a revered national treasure; and no regard for community efforts to preserve and beautify it,” she said.
IRM supports plans by Australian-based Capital Play Inc. to overhaul Aqueduct with a high-profile gaming venue that would include entertainment and retail opportunities. IRM supports a merger between Capital Play and the New York Racing Association that would see NYRA handle the on-track racing product.
Donehower described Capital Play as “the only entity that has the financial wherewithal and comprehensive plan to allow the new entity [franchise] to begin negotiations with the state and state Racing and Wagering Board,” she said.
“Governor, we all appeal to you to seize the moment: keep the tracks private.”
However, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno (R-Brunswick) says Belmont should have gaming to generate the revenues needed to keep New York racing competitive. Without it, purses will not be high enough and horsemen will not receive enough income, he has said.
Aqueduct is slated to get 4,500 VLTs, and a gaming facility could be up and running 12-14 months after a franchise agreement is reached.
Some people have questioned whether Belmont and Aqueduct both could support large-scale gaming venues because the tracks are only about ten miles apart. In addition, VLTs have not lived up to financial projections at New York’s harness tracks, where they already have been installed.
“We need to grow racing, not kill it with slots,” Donehower wrote Spitzer.