The Saratogian

Horses and the racing industry yield major economic benefits and jobs, representatives of breeders and horsemen told legislators Tuesday, urging that protective measures be taken as New York enters the new casino era.

“Our (thoroughbred) industry was not in good shape prior to two years ago … We were actually on a downward decline,” said Jeffrey Cannizzo of the New York State Thoroughbred Breeders. “What changed this all was Genting’s VLT program.”

Testifying at a hearing on the impact of the equine industry, Cannizzo said purses and the breeding fund have seen a tremendous growth as a result revenue-sharing from the Aqueduct racino in Queens operated by global gambling giant Genting as Resorts International. The money flowing to racetracks and breeders means the industry has expanded to the point where New York is for the first time a competitor with Kentucky.

Companies that want to expand breeding in New York “need to know that the state is committed to what is on the table and not be afraid to jump into the deep end of the pool,” Rick Violette of the Thoroughbred Horsemen Association testified.

“We have a commitment for the VLT revenue, it was a 24-year deal … every time we get kind of neck deep there seems to be this threat of somehow clawing back the revenue that has shown to be very, very productive in the state,” Violette said. “The more we can solidify the state’s commitment to the industry, the more this industry will grow.”

In November, voters approved seven new Las Vegas-style gambling casinos, with four opening immediately upstate and the possibility of another three in the New York City region in the years ahead. One of those is likely to be at Aqueduct.

Since the Genting deal, Cannizzo said sales of New York bred thoroughbreds rose by 81 percent in 2012, yearlings by 54 percent and weanling horses by 119 percent.

“What’s happened because of the program down at Aqueduct is that New York-bred horses have become worth more money and they are worth more money because there’s more of a demand to own them and race them here in the state of New York,” Cannizzo said.

“The point of all this is that with the program we have at Aqueduct, it’s dramatically changed and evolved the economics of the thoroughbred industry for the state,” he added. “It’s done exactly what it was intended to do, which was to create jobs and further the agribusiness side of our industry.”

Cannizzo and Violette said any future switch of Aqueduct from a racino to an expanded gambling casino should include guarantees for the continue financial support for racing.

“I think if there’s anything the state can do to further create protections for our industry and remove some of the uncertainty that’s wrapped around the future for our industry, I think you are going to see further economic growth here,” Cannizzo said. “The sky really is the limit.”