An effort to strengthen New York's $3 billion horse racing industry is moving forward on Thursday with a coalition of business groups, trade organizations and labor unions ramping up its efforts to aid the sport.
The groups, part of the We Are New York Horse Racing campaign, will launch an effort to push for bonding authority for the New York Racing Association in order to renovate Belmont Park in Nassau County, home of the Belmont Stakes and the third and final leg of racing's triple crown. But the organizations are also framing it as a broader call to boost the sport statewide.
The coalition is set to include the Business Council of New York State, the Queens Chamber of Commerce and a range of small businesses and non-profit entities.
“Whether upstate or downstate, New York is horse racing country through and through,” said Heather Briccetti Mulligan, the president and CEO of the Business Council of New York State. “This sport generates billions in economic activity, supports tens of thousands of jobs, and contributes tens of millions of dollars in taxes. Modernizing Belmont Park will only increase the tremendous benefits horse racing brings to everyone from farmers in the North Country to backstretch workers on Long Island to hotel workers in Saratoga – and we are excited to help the coalition continue to make the case this year in Albany.”
Roughly 19,000 jobs in New York can be traced to the horse racing industry in the state. But the sport has faced challenges in recent years, from the COVID pandemic, competition for sports bettors' attention and money with the advent of mobile sports wagering on smartphones and efforts by animal-rights activists.
The coalition is trying to build momentum for an upgrade to Belmont Park on Long Island, with NYRA planning a new grandstand at the facility. The association needs bonding authority approved by the state Legislature before the project can go forward, however.
The coalition is trying to draw a direct line from the pending renovations at Belmont to the broader implications for the sport in New York, including the effect the project could have for Saratoga Springs.
“Saratoga Race Course is the crown jewel of the Spa City, but in order to secure Saratoga’s future, we need to re-imagine and strengthen Belmont Park on Long Island,” said Todd Shimkus, the president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. “The connection between horse racing upstate and downstate is undeniable. Upstate farms are sustained by purchases for Belmont, while strong downstate racing in the spring and fall keeps up momentum for record-breaking summer meets at Saratoga. The future of Belmont and Saratoga are inextricably linked, and on behalf of my constituents in Saratoga, I am ready to make modernizing Belmont Park a top priority.”