Good News For Monticello Raceway

Venerable track sees a significant purse increase, let’s hope that’s a good sign

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

Social media can be a blessing and a curse. I admit, when I’m bored, I’ll check out Facebook several times a day. Most of the time, I scratch my head and wonder why I’m wasting so much time on the site. I also check out Twitter; I like it better because it provides more news, more breaking stories and if you like sports, Twitter can and does inform.

I was on Twitter the other day and saw some news that couldn’t be found anywhere else. It was under the radar news which required a few clicks on the internet to confirm. And, for harness racing and their fans, the news is———–good!

Monticello Raceway—beleaguered and the subject of many a rumor about its potential demise—has increased purses and increased them significantly. We know that the track will never rival the purses at Yonkers or the Meadowlands but if you look at next week’s entries, the increases are notable.

The Monday, Dec. 16 feature was run for $9,400, significantly more than the norm that was $5,900 to $6,200. The card also featured a race for $8,200, and two for $7,200. Total purses for the day amounted to $62,000 for 10 races and most importantly, 76 horses were slated to be behind the gate when racing began at 12:25 pm ET.

The Tuesday, Dec. 17 card features more of the same: a $9,400 feature; an $8,800 race and two for $8,200 with purses totaling $68,500 over 11 races. These are significant increases. Unlike smaller purse tracks like Freehold, Buffalo and Batavia, Monticello doesn’t offer an open race. Perhaps that will change as horses earn more money in 2020.

To say that Monticello is an important track might be a bit of an overstatement, but make no mistake, the track is important to harness racing. It runs Monday thru Thursday, (most weeks) 52 weeks a year and is the only pure weekday afternoon harness track in the land. It’s the one track that “competes,” with thoroughbred tracks that run in the daytime on weekdays.

Handle has always been steady at the Sullivan County track. Running consistently in the afternoon helps, as does a reliable stable of horses and drivers as well as a signal that is carried by most ADW (Advanced Deposit Wagering) platforms.

There are many that think Monticello’s days are numbered. For years, the race track was a racino, but today, there are no machines on the grounds. The track’s owners built a full-scale casino six miles away and while revenue from that casino supplements harness racing, the track—which now sits alone with few spectators—will certainly not see any major infrastructure improvements in the future.

That’s not the only concern. The casino has been struggling and has not met its revenue expectations. In August, Resorts World agreed to sell its half to its partner, Genting Gaming. Had Genting not stepped in, the casino might have been in serious trouble with rumors of bankruptcy in the air.

Back in the day, those that lived in New York City flocked to the Catskills to take in entertainment and spend time in the country, but those days are gone. Genting owns a casino on the Aqueduct Racetrack grounds; there is also a racino in Westchester County at Yonkers Raceway. There are plenty of closer to home options to choose from.

Some think that the casino boom, if not over, has plateaued and many of them are struggling to meet their lofty projections.. The ones near the big cities are doing well, but those in the country (Del Lago, Monticello) simply are not. Some predict that eventually the Catskill casino will be gone.

That’s easy to say, but the facility is huge, with an 18-story hotel and over 1,000 employees. We know that there are not enough “locals” to make it go, so some clever marketing will have to be done by Genting in the coming days and months in an attempt to lure visitors who have hopes of striking it rich.

Casino woes aside, the racing news is good.  As long as the New York State Gaming Commission mandates racing, Monticello will carry on. In fact, the current agreement between the casino and the horsemen runs through 2025. Unless the track itself files for bankruptcy, chances are good that racing will continue for the foreseeable future.

In New York, purses are connected to casino revenues. When the casinos make more money, purses at the tracks go up accordingly. Take Yonkers for example. The open paces and trots go up and down in accordance to the racino revenues. They have been as high as $50,000 and currently sit at $42,000.

Does that mean the racino is struggling?  Absolutely not. The raceway has decided to spread out those increases in its races. The preferreds, which used to run for $30,000 are now running for $35,000; races that used to run for $16,000 now do so for $20,000—you get it.

All the reports say that Monticello Resorts World Casino is hurting, but if it was, why the purse increase at the track six miles away? I guess we’ll leave that to the accountants and those that pay the bills. My guess is that they are making money, just not as much money as they need to.

As much as the sport thrives on the big track, the big races and the big horses, tracks like Monticello are essential for the sport to sustain itself and keep moving forward.

This is positive news for all–fans, drivers, trainers, so rather than worry, let’s celebrate it.

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