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Horse racing opponents seek to block $455M loan for Belmont overhaul

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ALBANY — A coalition of horse racing opponents rallied at the State Capitol Wednesday, seeking to persuade rank-and-file legislators to block a proposed $455 million loan to overhaul Belmont Park.

Gov. Kathy Hochul supports the loan, saying it will allow the New York Racing Association to “winterize” the venerable racetrack and consolidate downstate racing at the venue while ending racing at Aqueduct.

But opponents said it’s a bad deal for taxpayers.

They called horse racing an abusive and dying sport, argued the industry’s job claims are inflated and said the state shouldn’t subsidize another sports venue, especially one that benefits wealthy horse owners. They contend there is no guarantee NYRA will repay the full loan over 25 years, as proposed, in part because its authorization to operate racing expires in 10 years.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A coalition of horse racing opponents are seeking to persuade rank-and-file legislators to block a proposed $455 million loan to overhaul Belmont Park.
  • Gov. Hochul supports the loan, saying it will allow NYRA to “winterize” the racetrack and end racing at Aqueduct.
  • Opponents call horse racing an abusive and dying sport, argue the industry’s job claims are inflated and say the state shouldn’t subsidize another sports venue.

“The reason they are coming to the state is they can’t obtain funding from private investors,” Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) said at the rally, which was held by the Coalition to End Horse Racing Subsidies. “Why not give the money to someone who actually needs the money and will serve the public?”

They noted some 40 horse tracks have shuttered around the nation since 2000.

“Hardly anyone shows up there,” said Sen. Robert Jackson (D-Manhattan), about Belmont. “It’s almost empty and $455 million isn’t chump change.”

The debate over the loan comes as the state Senate and Assembly begin to formulate their separate “one-house” budget proposals, likely unveiling them next week. The house proposals set the table for negotiations with the governor — with a state budget deadline of April 1.

NYRA has been advocating for the project for several years, joining with horse race owners and trainers and local chambers of commerce. But it never gained enough political traction to win approval in the State Legislature.

Gaining Hochul’s support likely dramatically changes the project’s chances this time around.

Hochul has touted the proposal, noting it is a loan — unlike, say, the state grants given last year for a new Buffalo Bills football stadium. She’s said the project will create thousands of construction-related jobs in the process.

She’s also said the alternative is it let Belmont and the surrounding area deteriorate. Some experts have said that’s her best argument: The preservation of existing jobs in horse racing and related businesses rather than promises of future growth of jobs and in-person attendance.

Her allies on this issue make similar claims.

“A reinvigorated Belmont Park would be huge for Long Island,” said Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown), noting it would drive revenue and create a “sports hub” with the nearby hockey arena for the New York Islanders.

“Modernizing Belmont Park is about far more than upgrading an iconic facility — it’s about creating and preserving jobs,” said Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Queens), in a statement released by “We are NY Horse Racing Coalition,” an alliance of business groups, unions and other urging lawmakers to help fund the Belmont renovation.

The coalition has argued that while in-person attendance at horse tracks might be down over decades, betting on New York horse racing is up — largely thanks to “digital betting.”

The coalition and NYRA note that while NYRA’s franchise authorization expires in 2033, Hochul’s proposal mandates that whatever entity gets the new authorization — NYRA or some other entity — has to assume responsibility for the loan.

“Rather than a rational public policy debate, these anti-horse racing activists are engaged in a campaign to destroy the sport in New York and will do and say anything to advance that agenda,” Patrick McKenna, NYRA’s vice president for communications, told Newsday in an email.

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