By PAUL POST
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Thoroughbred breeders have a special gift for Gov. David Paterson and state leaders that have failed to “get out of the starting gate” and name an Aqueduct Race Track gaming operator.
Following a July 27 rally at the state Capitol, the group plans to give the governor and other lawmakers a horseshoe reminding them it’s time to get Aqueduct’s racino up and running.
The proposed facility would generate an estimated $450 million per year with money going to state education, the Lottery Division and New York’s thoroughbred racing industry. Lack of such funding is stalling much-needed Saratoga Race Course capital improvements.
In addition, New York breeding farms have been hard hit because horsemen have started taking their horses to Pennsylvania, whose breeding program is fueled by its lucrative new gaming facilities. With 400 farms, New York’s breeding industry employs an estimated 19,000 people.
“We’re holding this rally to make people aware of the economic impact of this (gaming) decision,” said Jeff Cannizzo, of Saratoga Springs-based New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. “After we speak our mind we are going to go door to door in the Albany Legislative Office Building and at the governor’s Executive Chamber Office, leaving behind horseshoes as a sign of our anger over the current lack of progress in rebidding VLTs. We want to make sure he’s (Paterson) held accountable because of the people who are affected.”
The governor has said he wants to announce a gaming operator by Aug. 1. Six firms have submitted bids and the selection requires three-way approval by Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and the Senate president. A recent power struggle in the Senate made it unclear who was leading the upper house. But Democrats regained control on Thursday, making Sen. Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, the president once again.
Legislation allowing for gaming was approved in 2001. Video lottery terminals have been installed at the state’s eight harness tracks and Finger Lakes Race Track, a thoroughbred venue near Rochester. But the state has never approved plans for Aqueduct, primarily because of uncertainty about the thoroughbred racing franchise.
Last September, however, New York Racing Association was awarded a new 25-year contract to run Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont Park. NYRA says it will run out of operating cash next year if a racino isn’t built soon.
“After eight years, inaction is no longer acceptable,” Cannizzo said. “We are going to make sure they (state leaders) understand that hard-working men and women throughout the thoroughbred breeding community aren’t asking for a handout. They are asking that VLTs the state approved in the year 2001 are finally installed at Aqueduct.”
The noon rally will be held behind the state Capitol, Cannizzo said. The breeders organization is urging anyone with an interest in racing to attend. For large groups, the breeders will supply transportation.
“We are going to put a human face on the thoroughbred industry so that state lawmakers and the governor’s office understand what is at stake: our livelihoods, people’s homes and family futures,” Cannizzo said.