The economic impact of Saratoga Race Course is felt far beyond the track’s fences and even beyond the Saratoga Springs city limits, officials said Friday.
It’s easier to understand that it brings tourists into the city.
But a new economic impact study says the 40-day summer thoroughbred meet also supports a growing horse-breeding industry that has economic benefits across the Capital Region and has been boosted by video lottery terminal revenue.
The “Economic and Fiscal Impact Analysis of Saratoga Race Course” puts the sales impact of the track at $237 million annually, and says the payroll tied to it tops $100 million.
The Union Avenue track accounts — directly or indirectly — for 2,600 jobs, most in agriculture and tourism.
The numbers are higher than in a similar study four years ago, when the track felt the effects of the recession.
“The agricultural piece is probably the most compelling in terms of growth,” said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. “That’s important for all of Saratoga County.”
Officials including New York Racing Association President and CEO Christopher Kay gathered Friday at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame to unveil the report, which was commissioned last year by the county Industrial Development Agency.
The track on average draws more than 20,000 people per day during its short season, giving it the highest average attendance of any horse track in the country.
“As someone who has spent much of his career in the tourism industry, I can attest to the fact that most municipalities and regions would envy for an attraction that yields these types of economic rewards,” said Kay, who came to NYRA in 2013 as the association struggled to recover from a mismanagement scandal.
The study also delved into the impact that VLT revenue from the Aqueduct race course has had on the New York-bred horse industry, from higher purses and special awards. The VLTs, which started operating in 2011, brought $12 million last year to the New York State Breeding and Development Fund, which distributes the money.
Since 2011, New York foal production has risen 30 percent at a time when it’s flat or declining nationally, and auction prices for New York-breds are up.
“Investment is coming into New York state from owners and breeders that was not there before,” said Robert Camoin, whose consulting firm conducted the study.
Kay said NYRA is also doing more to promote New York-bred races. This summer, it will move a day of New York-bred racing from the Sunday after the Travers to a more prominent spot on Friday, the day before the summer’s biggest race.
“I spent a lot of time with people from Kentucky, and they’re taking great note of what is happening here,” Kay said.
Of the $237 million in annual sales, the study said track operations account for $43 million; that participants like owners, trainers, jockeys and breeders account for $52 million; and a $142 million sales impact comes from tourists and visitors.
A survey of track visitors found that 59 percent were from outside the Capital Region, and 39 percent were from out-of-state. That leads to restaurant meals and hotel stays.
“Racing season room revenue accounts for more than 30 percent of our annual room revenue,” said Cindy Hollowood, general manager of the Holiday Inn on Broadway.
The study found that the track last year also generated $7.4 million for New York state through sales tax and other taxes, and the county and city received $6.8 million in tax revenue.
“Clearly agriculture and tourism are our No. 1 industries, so if not for Saratoga Race Course and the economic and fiscal impacts we are seeing here, we would not be the city we are today,” said Mayor Joanne Yepsen.
She said the VLT revenue has a direct impact on the success of the Saratoga meet and all of NYRA’s operations. “If we do not have state support with the VLTs, Saratoga Springs would suffer,” she said.
NYRA is guaranteed the VLT revenue for another 20 years, though Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called on NYRA to balance its budget without the money as NYRA — a nonprofit currently under state oversight — prepares to submit a reorganize plan to the state next month.
The report, like similar analyses done in 2006 and 2011, is going to be shown to state legislators to persuade them of the economic importance of the track and the thoroughbred industry, said IDA Chairman Raymond F. Callanan.
With casinos in New York due to open within a couple of years, there’s a feeling that horse racing may need safeguards.
“We have to be very careful because of the arrival of casinos, that the racing industry has to do a better job of serving people,” said Rod Sutton, a member of the IDA board. “The extent of the industry is far beyond what a casino has. . . . The VLT money is extremely important.”
It’s also vital that NYRA make long-term investments in the track to improve the visitor experience, Sutton said.
“This is our Yankee Stadium,” he said.
This summer the track will open on July 24, when the Yankees will be on the road against Minnesota, and run through Labor Day, Sept. 7, when they will be at home against the Orioles.