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Raceway Horsemen's Contract Up in the Air

By John Emerson
MONTICELLO — April 25, 2000 -- Monticello horsemen, seeking a new contract at Monticello Raceway, made the best of a bad situation yesterday after being thrown a curve by the news that track owners Catskill Development were no longer in the casino mix.
More than 60 people, many of them members of the Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association, came to a scheduled news conference prepared to seek public support for their demands that they get a small piece of the casino’s action in their new contract. The announcement Friday that Catskill Development may be out of the casino entirely threw the contract talks into limbo.
“We’re going back to the drawing board as far as the contract is concerned,” said Marvin Newburg, the association’s lawyer and chief negotiator. “We’re going to have to concentrate on more immediate conditions like purses and day-to-day conditions at the track instead of looking at long-range concerns.”
The contract between the raceway and the association expires May 1. Until last Thursday, horsemen had been demanding that they be guaranteed a portion of the casino’s revenue. Although the track and horsemen are mentioned in the cooperation agreement between the Village of Monticello and Catskill Development, there is no set percentage or dollar amount of revenue. Horsemen were worried that, without a specific agreement, they may be cut out entirely.
That concern was still very much in evidence at yesterday’s news conference at the Monticello Elks Lodge, but added to it was the news that the casino might be a dead issue altogether.
Political leaders, including representatives from all levels of government, from the village to representatives from Congressmen Gilman and Hinchey and all levels in between, expressed their support for the horsemen’s position.
“You have to take care of the people who take care of you,” said Sullivan County Legislator Bob Kunis. “The horsemen have been here through good times and bad. It’s payback time, and you can’t be ignored or left out.”
The horsemen were offered a guarantee of at least a 20 percent increase in the value of the purses. That offer was rejected because it would not be enough to substantially revive the flagging industry within the county and area, they said.
The Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association has between 400 and 500 members. The impact of the industry, however, extends beyond simply the owners, drivers, trainers and grooms that make up the association’s membership. Veterinarians, farmers supplying feed, breeders and others dependent on harness racing are also impacted.
Horse racing in general and harness horse racing in particular has suffered in recent years as other gambling and entertainment opportunities have been presented and compete for the same pool of money. In places where horsemen and tracks receive a share of revenue from other forms of gambling, however, the industry is making strides to right itself.
At Dover Downs in Delaware, on-track slot machines are legal and the horsemen receive one percent of the income. Prior to the implementation of the one-armed bandits, the horsemen were racing for purses of less than $1,000. Now the tiny cut has increased purses almost tenfold, and the least purse is $5,000 or more.
In Indiana, where the industry receives a small portion of gambling revenues from riverboat casinos, the industry is also healthy and taken strides toward improvement.
“We need to have money set aside for the entire industry, not just purses at Monticello,” said Newburg. “The governor needs to look at the entire picture when he looks at approving a gaming compact, no matter who it is with.”

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