Joe Faraldo: Don’t panic over Yonkers being sold to MGM

The president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York said racing is locked up at the track through 2019 and the new operator may even help to grow purses.

by Dave Briggs

Joe Faraldo said there is no reason, yet, to be concerned about racing’s future at Yonkers Raceway in the wake of Tuesday’s announcement that the Rooney family has reached a deal to sell the Westchester, NY track and its Empire City Casino to MGM Resorts International for $850 million.

Reached in France, where he is part of the team scouting French trotters to purchase and bring back to the United States, Faraldo, the president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York (SOANY) said the horsepeople have a contract with Yonkers that provides for more than 230 days of racing annually through 2019.

“We expect that will continue to be the case past its 2019 expiration date, as will the purse enhancement from the VLTs. Racing and VLTs are also married in (New York state) legislation for the benefit of the operator as well as the agriculture and racing industry’s tens of thousands of jobs.”

Faraldo added that MGM Grand may even help grow purses thanks to its business acumen in the casino business.

“Slots contribute, by far, the vast amount of the revenue stream for every casino operator and MGM Grand is one of the best operators I know of,” Faraldo said, indicating a growth in slot/VLT revenue would deliver more money to purses.

An article on USA Today-affiliated (full story here) written by Matt Coyne indicated the 119-year-old horse track and casino — which has been owned for nearly 50 years by the same Rooney family that owns the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers — called the deal “huge news for the southeast Yonkers business that… finds itself having to fight for relevancy against competition further upstate and in Connecticut and New Jersey.”

The story said the, “deal includes MGM refinancing Empire City’s outstanding $245 million debt. MGM Growth Properties will technically be purchasing the property for about $625 million, including the refinanced debt.”

With Yonkers located just 15 miles from Times Square in Manhattan, MGM chairman and CEO Jim Murren has talked about the deal’s potential for his company to expand into the “high-density New York City region,” but few details are yet available about what MGM plans to do with the 97-acre site that boasts the sixth largest gaming floor in the country with 5,222 VLTs. Though video blackjack was added to Yonkers in 2015, the gaming facility does not have table games.

“MGM will likely have to do something as the fight for bettors’ dollars increases,” Coyne wrote. “Resorts World Catskills in Sullivan County offers live table games, while its sibling, Resorts World Casino in Queens, offers similar fare to Empire City. Those two only add to the traditional competition in Atlantic City and eastern Connecticut, plus new casinos in eastern Pennsylvania.”
MGM has also been mum, so far, about its plans for horse racing on Yonkers’ half-mile oval.

“There certainly may be changes but until we sit down with the new people for future terms and conditions governing the conduct of racing, there is no need to engage in wild speculation or make further comments at this time,” Faraldo said. “Suffice it to say that the SOA of NY’s long standing position regarding the protection of racing and agriculture is well known… We look forward to working with the new management after the official approval is given by the NYS Gaming Commission.”

The SOANY also released a statement congratulating Tim Rooney Sr. and the entire Rooney family on the sale of the facility.

“We have known this day would eventually be upon us and wish to thank the Rooneys for a nearly 50-year partnership that has seen tremendous growth in the New York horse racing industry,” said the statement. “Our agreements insure that racing will continue through this contract and those to come. The jobs in horse racing and agriculture are important to the New York State economy and we are confident that new management recognizes this.”

Coyne’s article said “the deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2019, because the state Gaming Commission needs to review the sale and license MGM to run the facility.”