By: Tom Precious

New York horsemen and tracks will pay the full costs of equine drug testing in the state, an amount that totals more than $4 million annually, under a state budget deal that was given final adoption by lawmakers late April 9.

Under the terms of the agreement between the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who proposed the idea, a per-start assessment will be charged to cover whatever “deficit” is created for the state for the costs of running the drug testing program at a state university campus in Morrisville.

The Thoroughbred and harness horsemen, as well as tracks, already pay part of the testing program, but those payments are based on handle.

The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association argued the payments should be based on a per-start basis because harness races account for three-quarters of pari-mutuel starts. “You might as well base it on sunny and cloudy days,” Rick Violette Jr., president of the Thoroughbred horsemen’s group, said of the present “handle-based” system of payments.

The governor’s budget in January proposed shifting all remaining equine drug test costs onto “those that actually participate in horse racing” instead of state taxpayers.

“The state assumed those costs as an accommodation to the tracks,” said the Cuomo budget in January in reference to a 1986 move by the state to pick up costs. “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 new plan, approved in the new state budget by the Senate on Sunday and by the Assembly on Saturday, will shift all remaining costs to the industry. The Thoroughbred horsemen were able to convince lawmakers and the governor to base the new cost obligations on a per-start basis. The amounts already being covered by the industry will, however, still be based on handle.

“It’s a good start,” said Violette, adding he still hopes to convince the state to base the full annual charge to the industry on a per start equation.

The coming year’s additional assessment to the industry, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity, will total an estimated $1.7 million—Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing—on top of what it is already paying for the drug tests and drug research costs at Morrisville. Based on Violette’s estimate of starts in the state, the Thoroughbred side would see a $425,000 increase.

Half the drug testing charges are paid by the horsemen and half by the tracks.

The new state budget also includes the end of a state control period over the New York Racing Association, which began in 2012. NYRA in the coming weeks, or perhaps months, will be under private hands once a majority of the new 17-member board is selected.