The headline from the June 28 edition of The Legislative Gazette says it all: “Assembly and Senate pass bill to give Vernon Downs a five-year tax break, averts shutdown.” The article goes on to explain that the measure will save the track an estimated $4 million per year. Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law: “To be clear, I am 100 percent supportive of Vernon Downs and stand ready to sign a bill that will protect people’s jobs and ensure the viability of the facility.”
Some background: Vernon Downs, like all of the other six harness tracks in the Empire State, has been on life support – racino slots – for over a decade now. Simply put, the harness tracks (and Aqueduct and Finger Lakes) were unable to compete with casinos and lotteries. Revenue was plummeting. So they petitioned government for relief – enter Video Lottery Terminals, taxpayer-provided subsidies for the racing industry. Corporate welfare.
In the case of Vernon, the state’s largesse wasn’t enough and closure, apparently, was imminent (September). True to form, the racing people cried about lost jobs (300, they say), and politicians would rather contract pink eye than be portrayed as insensitive on a jobs issue. So instead of allowing the free market to function as intended – which it has been here: “part-owner Gary Greenberg says customers are going to other gaming establishments such as Turning Stone, Rivers and Del Lago casinos” – we have a (further) bailout. Now to be clear, there may indeed be businesses or industries that are too big to fail, but a rinky-dink harness track in western NY is most definitely not one of them. Bottom line, this is America, capitalism; it’s not within your charter, Governor Cuomo, to “protect jobs” that time has passed by or to “ensure the viability of [a] facility” that on its own is inviable.
In the meantime, while those (supposed) 300 jobs are being “saved,” horses will continue to be enslaved, exploited, abused, and, yes, sometimes killed (the Gaming Commission reports 10 dead at Vernon since 2009, though surely there have been more). But that, of course, is not the end of it. For those who do make it off the track alive, it’s often just another form of merciless servitude that awaits (Amish farm, e.g.); worse still, many (most?) of the horses now, or who will be, racing at Vernon Downs will meet brutal, violent ends at slaughterhouses north and south.
So not only are we – the taxpayers – bailing out (again) a horse track, keeping it alive when it should be (and actually once was) dead, but worse, we are subsidizing animal cruelty. For shame…
So-called “Mohawk Valley Nine” – the state legislators who spearheaded the bill – but especially one Jim Tedisco. The long-time assemblyman, now senator has crafted a reputation as an “animal advocate”; in fact, his Senate bio brags that “[he] made history by creating the first-ever NYS Animal Advocacy Day.” Apparently, however, his “advocacy” stops at dogs and cats.
Legislature at large.
Governor Cuomo (his contact form, should you be so inclined).
New York State.