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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Thoroughbred Track Wants to Block Casino

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) - Another gaming option in upstate New York is one too many, a thoroughbred track near Rochester says in a lawsuit.

The plaintiff Finger Lakes Racing Association Inc. wants to keep a proposed Las Vegas-style casino out of the area, fearing it will just steal revenue from existing gambling operations in the mostly rural expanse between Rochester and Syracuse.

The company runs Finger Lakes Gaming & Race Track, which offers live thoroughbred racing from mid-April to early December in Farmington, a town about a half-hour southeast of Rochester.

In addition to the live racing and simulcasts of races run elsewhere, the track also operates a "racino" with more than 1,500 video lottery gaming terminals, also known as VLTs.

The Finger Lakes racino is one of several such horse track-VLT combinations in the area.

New York also is home to five tribal casinos and three Indian-owned video-gaming facilities, most of them located in central and western parts of the state. A ninth is due later this year near Syracuse.

Following voter approval in November 2013, New York embarked on try to locate additional non-tribal casinos in the state. Three were authorized by an arm of the state Gaming Commission late last year, near Albany, in the Catskills, and between Rochester and Syracuse in the town of Tyre.

The latter, located about 25 miles from the Finger Lakes track, will result in "extreme cannibalization" that "endangers the very existence" of its operations, Finger Lakes Racing contends in a complaint in Albany County Supreme Court.

The company sued the Gaming Commission, its Gaming Facility Location Board, and the entities behind the proposed Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, including Rochester commercial real estate developer Wilmorite Inc.

The legislation that authorized the new casinos sought to boost upstate tourism and economic development by bringing non-New Yorkers and downstate residents to the resorts, according to the lawsuit. The new venues also were meant to add to the state's coffers.

Instead, Finger Lakes Racing claims, "Economic development is not boosted, jobs are not created, and revenue is not added to the state through redistribution of existing gaming revenue. (Italics in original.)

"The statutory goals and effort is not to slice the pie further, but to grow the pie through maximizing gaming revenue."

As the Gaming Commission took public comment on the 17 proposals received in response to its request for casino plans, Finger Lakes Racing President Christian Riegle submitted a letter outlining the "severe harm" anticipated if additional gaming came to "an already saturated rural market," the complaint says.

Appended to the letter was a report prepared by Clyde Barrow of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth that indicated a casino in Tyre "will displace over $100 million in gross gaming revenue currently received by western New York's existing gaming facilities, a substantial portion of which will be taken from Finger Lakes," the plaintiff says.

Another analysis, from Union Gaming Analytics, said adding the casino would increase gaming revenue only marginally and likely shift money away from the local racinos, it contends.

In Tyre's own application, backers forecast that half of the casino's first-year gaming revenue would come from existing facilities, according to the lawsuit.

The 37-page complaint, filed March 6, calls the Gaming Facility Location Board's approval of the Tyre casino arbitrary and capricious because "mandatory economic activity and business development factors" were not applied uniformly to all applications.

"With respect to some applications, the location board afforded the cannibalization factor so much weight that it disqualified numerous applications categorically," including a half-dozen submitted for one county in the mid-Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes Racing says. "But in evaluating the Tyre casino, the location board barely mentioned it at all, even though cannibalization was much more severe."

Finger Lakes Racing wants the decision making Tyre eligible for a license pulled and the full Gaming Commission blocked from granting a license to Wilmorite for the casino.

All three casinos approved by the board in December still need license approval from the commission.

A spokesman for the Gaming Commission, Lee Park, said Wednesday the agency had no comment on the pending litigation.

Daniel Spitzer of Hodgson Russ in Albany represents Finger Lakes Racing, which is a subsidiary of Delaware North Cos. of Buffalo, a giant in the food service and hospitality industry.

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