Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed $455 million loan to prop up New York’s fading horse racing industry is a load of manure, critics charge.
The governor’s $227 billion spending plan includes a capital loan, which would authorize the issuance of bonds to modernize the Belmont Park race track — home of the Belmont Stakes, one of three legs of the national Triple Crown, which is adjacent to the new UBS Arena in Nassau County.
The proposal includes closing down the aging Aqueduct race track in South Ozone Park, Queens and reverting the property back to the state and shifting those horse races to Belmont.
The New York Racing Association, which runs the major race tracks, claims operators of the venue will pay off the bonds in the upcoming two decades.
But opponents of the loan say Hochul is throwing taxpayer money out the window.
“Why is New York state loaning money for a brand-new luxury racing facility when the tracks they are replacing have atrocious attendance records? Over just the last four decades Belmont’s attendance has fallen 88% and Aqueduct’s has dropped an astounding 94%,” said an analysis prepared for a coalition of animal rights and education advocacy groups.
The End Horse Racing Subsidies Coalition includes New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, Alliance for Quality Education and NY Communities for Change.
Their study doubted that NYRA will be able to repay the loan.
“Forty one tracks have closed around the country in recent years. Will racing even exist in 10 years?” the analysis said.
Victor Matheson, a Holy Cross College professor and expert on sports economics said, “Basically it looks like with this project, you’re kind of hitching your wagon to an industry that is in long-term decline.”
He said fewer people bet at the track because of lottery games, casinos and now mobile sports betting authorized since the hey day of New York horse racing decades ago.
Total revenues from horse betting did increase from approximately $900,000 in 1979 to $2.32 billion in 2022, according to state data.
The NYRA loan was first reported by New York Focus.
The critics also point out that private businesses that benefit from horse racing have no skin in the game.
Horse racing has been propped up by more than $2.9 billion in state taxpayer dollars and direct benefits since 2008, according to a Times Union analysis published last year.
The subsidy includes revenues from slots parlors located on race track property — a steady flow of income that will be used to pay back the loan.
The horse racing industry has political influence. NYRA’s board of directors includes titans from business and the real estate industry who are big campaign donors to Hochul and state lawmakers from both parties.
Marc Holliday, chairman of SL Green Realty, has donated more than $70,000 to Hochul’s campaign kitty and wants to build a casino in Times Square.
Developer Earl Mack donated $16,500 to Hochul’s campaigns.
“As we have always said, campaign donations do not have any influence on government decisions and we reject any implication otherwise,” Hochul spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays said.
Hochul, during a press briefing in Albany Wednesday, defended the Belmont proposal.
“The alternative is to have a site that deteriorates, loses value, has a detrimental effect on the surrounding neighborhood. And it also helps become the death of an industry which is synonymous with New York State the racing industry. One part of the Triple Crown,” Hochul said.
The governor insisted she’s not providing a “direct subsidy from the state” and is merely giving NYRA the authority to float bonds to pay for the Belmont overhaul.
“There’s great potential for this to be a catalyst. hotels and entertainment and make it a real attraction that draws even more than just the horse racing industry.”
NYRA’s own economic analysis claims the $455 million rehab of Belmont Park will nearly double attendance and generate $86 million in new gate revenues and feed off the new UBS arena next door and the new LIRR station in Elmont.
The Belmont track overhaul will yield a $1 billion economic impact from construction jobs, 740 permanent jobs, additional state and local tax revenue and generate a return that would be worth more than double the $455 million loan, NYRA said.
Also, the analysis notes that the state will benefit from new economic activity by repurposing the Aqueduct track site for housing, entertainment/retail or a production hub.
“The construction of a new Belmont Park will create thousands of jobs, generate billions in economic activity and secure the future of thoroughbred racing in New York State. That’s why this transformational project enjoys broad support among New Yorkers, elected officials, organized labor and the statewide business community. A modernized Belmont Park on Long Island would come at no cost to taxpayers and result in the finest sports and entertainment destinations anywhere in the country,” said NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna.
McKenna claimed “out-of-touch activists are engaged in a campaign to destroy the sport in New York and will do and say anything to advance that agenda.”
Assemblyman Gary Pretlow (D-Mt. Vernon), who chairs the racing and wagering committee, backs Hochul’s plan.
“I support the loan fully and they will be able to repay the loan,” said Pretlow.