Monticello taken to court over refusal to resume racing

Monticello taken to court over refusal to resume racing

July 22, 2020

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Lawyer Joe Faraldo, representing the Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association, said the casino company that runs the track is refusing to resume racing unless horsepeople pick up the tab.

by Dave Briggs

Joe Faraldo, the lawyer representing the Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association (MHHA), is taking Monticello Raceway’s parent company Empire Resorts to court today (July 22) to try to force the New York track to resume racing.

Monticello last raced March 12 before being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though all other harness tracks in New York scheduled to race this summer have long since re-opened with the blessing of the state, Monticello, located in the Catskills Mountains resort area, has remained closed.

Faraldo said the issue is casino management is balking at having to pay for the costs associated with conducting racing while the track’s affiliated casino, Resorts World Catskills Casino Resort, remains closed to the public.

“(Management says), basically, ‘Unless the horsemen give up all of their statutory and contractual revenue streams then we’re not going to open… If you don’t pay for racing, then we’re not going to conduct it,’” Faraldo said.

“We have $3 million in purses available that we are being deprived of the opportunity to race for. It’s not that they don’t have the money to pay purses. They continue to maintain the track, which they are doing five days a week, but they don’t want to run any extra cost to bring in personnel, EMTs or any personnel that they need to conduct simulcasting… they don’t want to have the expenses of racing.”

Faraldo said track management has also told the MHHA that, “if after September 1 our casino opens and our gross gaming revenue drops, then the statutory contributions that we have to make to racing will drop in proportion to our losses sustained in gross gaming revenue.”

After Faraldo was interviewed at length, HRU emailed eight questions to a spokesperson for Monticello and received the following answer, which appears in full and verbatim:

“While we await further guidance from New York State, we are hard at work making sure Resorts World Catskills will be ready to reopen as soon as we are able to. Reopening Resorts World Catskills will allow us to get hundreds of employees back to work and play a leading role in supercharging the funding for New York’s educational system.

“We look forward to including Monticello Raceway in this reopening process as part of our steadfast commitment to the long-term success of the Catskills.”

Faraldo said the Monticello horsepeople have already suffered through a long shutdown due to COVID-19 and can ill afford for racing not to resume soon. Apart from his concern about the financial health of the Monticello horsepeople, Faraldo also said he has deep concern about the plight of the horses that race at the track, many of which have trouble racing elsewhere because the competition is too steep.

“The guys at Monticello are few and far between that stick their heads into Yonkers, for example. They aren’t going anywhere else,” Faraldo said. “At Saratoga and other places, you can only race two days a week. The problem is that those horses— and I don’t mean to demean anyone about those horses — but it’s more of a likelihood that they go to the Amish or they meet some fate that I’d rather not talk about… and end up in New Holland, Pennsylvania.”

New Holland is home to a regular horse auction known as the Kill Pen where horses are sold for meat.

Faraldo said the situation is also egregious because Monticello is contractually obligated to race.

“(Monticello doesn’t) want to honor any of the obligations that they have, pursuant to law, to run racing,” Faraldo said. “Those obligations are in statute for so many race days. For example, the fact that they applied for a license, the fact that the governor now has said that after June 1 you can have racing at the track, pursuant to the terms of your license. No one can conduct racing without a license, so everyone that has a license is given the opportunity to restore racing.

“I understand that it was impossible to have racing up until June 1 (due to COVID-19), but after June 1, it was no longer an impossibility to perform and so they should be performing – not only because of all the statutory obligations they have to pay purses and for OTB money to be shared et cetera, et cetera, they also have a contractual obligation with the Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association to conduct racing.

“When I look around, I don’t think I can find a track in the country that’s been permitted to race that hasn’t raced, except one, and that’s Monticello. Certainly, in New York state, I can look at VLT facilities: Saratoga, Vernon, Yonkers… they are all meeting the obligations in their contracts and under state law and pursuant to the license that they were granted. And they don’t have VLTs operating, so what does that mean? That means Yonkers is going into their pockets, Saratoga is going into its pocket and Vernon is going into its pocket. Now, look at Tioga. Tioga has a casino… Tioga is operating (racing), so that means that management there is going into its pocket to operate racing because it’s pursuant to a license that they have.

“(Monticello’s) casino company has decided that they are going to control the mandate from the governor, the obligations under our racing license and simulcasting license. We’re going to transcend any provisions in state law that provides for minimum race days or statutory sharing of money between the horsemen… ‘We’re going to lock you out,’ basically.

Faraldo said there’s a virtual court hearing scheduled for today (July 22) at 2 p.m.

“We’ve asked the judge to issue a preliminary injunction, preventing them from depriving us of our opportunity to earn a livelihood pursuant to that contract and prevent them from locking us out of racing, the existence of racing,” Faraldo said.

“Meanwhile, we filed a claim against them in arbitration for approximately $6 million in damages.”

Faraldo said no one, including the New York State Gaming Commission, seems willing, “to enforce any of the rules or regulations covering the conduct of racing at Monticello, including the number of race days that they’ve applied for, the fact that they are holding a license to conduct racing and simulcasting, besides holding still a VLT license and their affiliated company has a casino license.”

Faraldo said he’s concerned about setting a precedent for allowing casino companies to offload the cost of racing onto the horsepeople.

“We’re not tolerating any of that,” he said, adding that Monticello and others conveniently forget racing is the reason some of the tracks were granted casinos in the first place.

“Before (Monticello) got its casino, we entered into this long-term contract with them which has about four or four-and-a-half years to go. One of the conditions, pursuant to that contract, was that we sign a letter supporting them getting a casino because they thought the horsemen’s support was that important… But, like in most places, once you get what you want, you forget the promises that you made. Like ‘I love you,’ for example,” he said.

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