Heated Debate: What Is The Future Of Horse Racing In New York?

Written By Mike Mazzeo on June 9, 2022 - Last Updated on February 14, 2023

The New York Racing Association’s hopes of renovating the grandstand at Belmont Park will have to wait until at least 2023.

NYRA was hoping to secure legislative approval during this session. But a bill proposal to borrow $450 million via state-issued bonds to renovate the Belmont Park grandstand was unsuccessful. 

“I personally think there’s a need to reconfigure and redo Belmont, but I think a lot of work needs to be done with the math and the fiscal implications of what they’re asking for in that bond,” Sen. Joe Addabbo said earlier this week, with the Belmont Stakes in New York set to take place on Saturday. 

“I’m confident they can do it. I’m confident that NYRA has the wherewithal to explain it to us why the state won’t be at risk and why it’s necessary. I just think they have to do it, and I would think that the timing should be the 2023 budget in early January.”

Addabbo: Proposed bill would help Belmont area

Advocates of the state-subsidized NY horse racing industry point toward its 19,000 jobs and $3 billion annual economic impact. Critics say the annual $230 million received by the previously bankrupt industry should be redirected elsewhere. 

Addabbo, who sponsored the proposed bill, wonders why anyone would want hard-working backstretch employees to lose their jobs. Addabbo said:

“You look at Saratoga and Belmont. Those areas thrive because the Belmont Stakes or the Saratoga season. You take the Saratoga Race Course away from Saratoga and that town suffers. That town is in trouble. And listen, I love that town. It’s thriving. The restaurant owners are happy because during the season their business gets a bump. Other local business as well. 

“I just want people who are adamantly opposed to understand that the spokes of the wheel go far in this industry to help a lot of people.” 

New York horse racing still thriving

Not-for-profit NYRA runs the tracks at Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct. As has been previously reported, the industry could ultimately be consolidated. Aqueduct, for example, lags behind popular tracks Belmont and Saratoga in handle and attendance. 

During last year’s 40-day summer meet, Saratoga Race Course produced an all-time high of $815.5 million in wagering handle while averaging 26,162 spectators. According to the Times Union, NYRA racing generated $2.9 billion in handle in 2021. 

Earlier this month, NYRA Bets, via its partnership with Caesars, launched the Caesars Racebook app in Florida and Ohio. 

Addabbo had introduced legislation to include fixed-odds horse betting on the NY sports betting apps. But the bill — which also would’ve allowed kiosks to be placed at various professional sporting venues in the state — failed to advance during budget negotiations. 

Regardless, the heated debate over New York’s polarizing horse racing industry isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

Photo by AP / Seth Wenig
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Mike Mazzeo

Mike Mazzeo is a contributing writer for PlayNY, reporting on legal sports betting in New York while covering the potential legalization of NY online casinos and poker. He previously wrote for ESPN, the New York Daily News and The Ringer, among others.

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