By: Tom Precious

New York state would stop paying costs associated with equine drug testing in the horse racing industry, under a proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his new 2017 state budget plan.

The plan would save the state $4.5 million by shifting the testing costs onto “those that actually participate in horse racing.”

Budget documents released by Cuomo’s office say that the government wants to return to a pre-1986 system in which those in the racing industry pay for the drug tests, not the state’s general fund. The plan calls for horse owners or tracks—or both—to pay for the drug testing program.

“The state assumed those costs as an accommodation to the tracks,” Cuomo said of the change made after 1986 in a budget memo detailing the proposal. “The tracks now benefit from video lottery gaming subsidies, which the tracks and the horsepersons can use to resume their historical responsibility for drug testing costs.”

The proposal is expected to be challenged.

“It’s something we want to oppose,” Senator John Bonacic, chairman of the Senate racing and wagering committee, said of the revenue-raising plan by Cuomo.

Rick Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said any discussion about having the industry pay the complete costs of equine drug testing should first include determining what sector of the racing industry pays what amount.

Violette said the harness industry in New York runs three times as many starters as Thoroughbreds, though Thoroughbreds make up 36% of the tests that are drawn.

“Before anything goes further, it needs to be established the true cost to each industry and what each industry pays,” he said.

Violette said the horsemen and the New York Racing Association now pay about $5 million annually to the state Gaming Commission, a portion of which goes to equine drug testing. “There needs to be a whole lot of examination and negotiation,” he said.

The proposal also would change a provision in the racing law that requires equine drug testing to be done at the State University of New York campus at Morrisville.

“Removing the restrictive language would ensure that equine testing in New York is conducted at the highest level of quality, at the most competitive rates, and in a timely manner,” the budget document states. The Cuomo budget proposes to put the equine drug testing program out to competitive bid.

Violette said the idea of the state shutting down its own equine drug lab at Morrisville and replacing it with some other entity also raises its own set of questions.

“If somebody can come in with a bigger, better lab doing it better than all the existing labs, then go for it,” Violette said. “But the business plan is critical and certainly has to encompass more than just testing of New York samples in order to make it financially viable.”

Bonacic said he opposes the plan. He said the state already has paid for drug testing equipment at the Morrisville lab. “Why send it out? Everything would be a waste and … people are happy with that testing. I don’t understand why we are privatizing it,” Bonacic said.