Assemblymember Carrie Woerner has called for the Rivers Casino to make its due financial payments to the Saratoga Harness Horsepersons Association but also warned that a proposed part of the New York Governor’s budget could be the end of harness racing in Saratoga Springs.
Under the provisions of the 2022 Executive Budget Briefing Book, the payments owed from Rivers Casino to Saratoga Casino and Raceway would be suspended. As explained this suspension would come in effect while any coronavirus-related restrictive measures are in place for either facility. The payments are planned to resume once each of the facilities remains free of Covid-19-related restrictions for at least six full and straight calendar months.
Assemblywoman Woerner shared her concern that the budget proposal that has been considered particularly beneficial for Rivers Casino would in fact have a negative impact on the harness track. According to Ms. Woerner, the proposal would be the end of harness racing in Saratoga Springs and a more reasonable and logical solution to the issue should be found.
Saratoga Casino and Raceway is the third-oldest track of its type on the territory of the country and has been operational for around 80 years. The assemblywoman said it would be a shame to put its legacy at risk by the budget provision that has remained unexplained.
Area’s Harness Racing Industry Could Hardly Survive Local Casinos’ Competition without the Payments
During the coronavirus pandemic, the area’s harness racing industry and the small businesses supporting it have faced significant financial difficulties because of reduced income and increased costs. Both the harness track and Rivers Casino were shut for months because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is why the Saratoga Harness Horsepersons Association does not expect to receive the full due payment but it still expects to receive some payments as proof of good faith.
According to a press release issued by Ms. Woerner’s office, no purse support payments have been made by Rivers Casino since the beginning of 2020, which was two and a half months before the forced shutdown on businesses across the state because of the coronavirus pandemic outbreak.
At the time when the state of New York hosted four casinos upstate, in 2013, the local authorities decided to guarantee support to the harness racing industry by establishing so-called purse support payments. The payments, which source were the video lottery terminals’ revenues generated by casinos, were aimed at helping the harness tracks across the state compensate for the loss of income caused by the establishment of the new casinos.
The purse support payments have been considered extremely important for the survival of the Saratoga Harness Horsepersons Association and its members, according to the assemblywoman’s press release. As explained by Ms. Woerner, without the money received by Rivers Casino, the harness track would be out of business, so the two parties should find a reasonable compromise for the due payments.
In its turn, Rivers Casino shared that it had been dealing with economic difficulties from before the coronavirus pandemic outbreak and the situation only got worse because of the six-month shutdown and the existing Covid-19 restrictions that are forcing the business to operate at limited working hours and 25% capacity.