For Immediate Release:
June 22, 2023
David Perle 202-483-7382
Albany, N.Y. – Hoping to prevent a shady deal to fund a private entertainment business with money from New York taxpayers, two New York residents have filed a suit in the Albany County Supreme Court, seeking to enjoin the New York Racing Association (NYRA) from receiving a massive windfall of $455 million in state funds to rebuild the Belmont Park clubhouse and grandstand. The lawsuit, filed today, names as defendants the State of New York; Gov. Kathy Hochul, whose husband works for the owner of Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack; the state Assembly and Senate; the Office of the State Comptroller and State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli; and NYRA. Hochul proposed the loan in her budget in January with no coherent plan for repayment. It was then passed by the state legislature.
Plaintiffs Jannette Patterson and John Di Leonardo allege that the loan is an unconstitutional disbursement of state funds that violates Article VII, Section 8 of the New York State Constitution. They seek, in part, to prevent the state from disbursing the funds to NYRA based on the association’s track record of financial problems and criminal history, which is detailed in the lawsuit and seems to make any payback unlikely. The racetrack also has a widely criticized record of horse deaths.
NYRA, which operates Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, and Aqueduct Racetrack under a franchise agreement with the state, declared bankruptcy in 2006 and was bailed out by the state with $105 million, approximately $80 million of which was used to pay off non-state debt. Just four years later, NYRA was revealed to have wrongfully withheld $8.5 million from bettors, resulting in a state takeover. NYRA was reprivatized in 2017. Though the association is required to pay an annual franchise fee to the state, it has not done so in years.
“Taxpayers’ hard-earned money shouldn’t be used to prop up a failing, private entertainment business with a history of criminal and financial misdeeds,” says PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo. “It is disgraceful for Gov. Kathy Hochul and the legislature to throw half a billion in taxpayer dollars into Belmont Park while universal school lunches and other crucial programs go underfunded.”
Since January 2022, at least 34 horses have died in racing and training accidents at Belmont Park, where attendance has plummeted by 88% over the past 40 years. Belmont is one of the deadliest tracks in the U.S. At least 322 horses died there between 2014 and 2021. Three horses have shattered bones and been euthanized since just June 1, including two during the Belmont Stakes weekend.
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment or abuse in any other way”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit PETA.org, listen to The PETA Podcast, or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.