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Contract dispute over racing

Contract dispute over racing
Monticello harness track's future uncertan
By Leonard Sparks
Times Herald-Record
Published: 2:00 AM - 03/22/14
MONTICELLO -Dozens of men and women tied to harness racing at the Monticello Casino & Raceway descended on Government Center on Thursday to make their case for survival before the Sullivan County Legislature.
Overshadowing the gathering is a bitter contract dispute with raceway owner Empire Resorts and uncertainty over the company's plans for the track as it pursues a license to open a full-service casino at the Concord site in Thompson.
"We believe Empire Resorts is doing its best to eliminate horse racing in Monticello," Alan Schwartz, president of the Monticello Harness Horsemen's Association, told legislators. "We believe they don't want a racetrack."
Before voters approved the building of four upstate casinos in November, Empire had secured approvals for a new racino at the Concord, with 2,150 video lottery terminals and a harness track on 200 leased acres.
This month the company and its partner, EPR Properties, unveiled plans at Bethel Woods for a $750 million casino resort. Currently a racetrack is not part of a plan that includes a full-service casino, a hotel and water park.
Empire is waiting for the state to announce the details for casino proposals, including whether a new harness track would be required, Charlie Degliomini, executive vice president for the company, said last week.
"We have been operating harness racing since 1958, and in any scenario remain committed to improving, supporting and operating harness racing, either at our new location if we are a successful bidder, or at the current Monticello Raceway," he said.
Horsemen are also trying to convince Empire to use gaming revenue to compensate for purses capped at 2013 levels by state legislation.
Dale Berensen, the Horsemen Association's executive secretary, came to tell legislators about "the people."
She mentioned a fundraiser last year in which harness drivers raised $10,000 for a food pantry and an annual Christmas party the Association holds for children.
Five years ago the Association raised $26,000 for a trust to benefit the children of a member who had died, Berensen said.
"We want to remain a viable entity in Sullivan County and believe we have earned that right," he said.

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