SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Race Course has begun its 2021 season with most of the staff it needs but continues to seek employees for the meet, which runs through Labor Day.
New York Racing Association and its contractors are 25% short of full staffing at the historic thoroughbred track, a NYRA spokesman said Friday.
Not surprisingly, the biggest employee deficit is in hospitality and entertainment — food and beverage service, waitstaff and bussers. Much of the rest of the hospitality industry beyond the track gates is in the same jam.
“We feel fortunate to be at 75% of our overall staffing goal,” spokesman Patrick McKenna said.
While not perfect, 2021 is far better than 2020. Racing was suspended for nearly three months last spring and NYRA’s revenue stream evaporated.
It obtained a $10 million loan under the Paycheck Protection Program and used it to maintain training and stabling activity at Belmont Park.
The suspension of horse racing was lifted in June 2020, in time for the racing meet at Saratoga to be held, without fans.
NYRA is awaiting a decision on its application for the Small Business Administration to convert the PPP loan to a grant.
The Saratoga meet got off to a promising start this year, McKenna said:
“Thursday’s record-breaking opening day attendance and wagering handle demonstrate the interest and enthusiasm around the 2021 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course.”
Online wagering, a critical revenue stream during the pandemic shutdown, has remained strong for NYRA, McKenna said. The steady growth of the NYRA Bets mobile betting platform accelerated during the pandemic, he added.
NYRA places the economic impact of Saratoga Race Course at $240 million per year (other than 2020) and said its three tracks are central to the state’s $3 billion thoroughbred industry and its 19,000 jobs.
With downtown busy, the race course back in action and SPAC hosting performances again this year, Saratoga Springs’ finance chief is optimistic about the business climate — many of those track and SPAC visitors are nonresidents who spend money in the city.
“To me, everything is pointing toward normal,” city Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan said. That’s for the summer — it’s too early to say about the autumn.
“I do still have concerns,” she said about the off-season, in which convention attendees and business travelers partly replace the summer tourists in Saratoga Springs.
Third-quarter sales tax revenue — the summer months, July-September — dropped 27% for the city from 2019 to 2020, she said. For all 12 months of 2020, revenue was down 17% from a year earlier.
Accordingly, in late 2020, Madigan budgeted only $9.5 million in sales tax revenue for 2021. She recently amended the revenue projection to $11.5 million. Based on the latest state report, she may increase the projection to $14.5 million, though she’s concerned the post-track season may not provide a stream of sales tax revenue sufficient to reach that goal.
The unanticipated revenue is being used to reverse budget cuts, hire police officers and a building inspector, bolster cybersecurity and add funding for the Department of Public Works.
Some may also be reserved for 2022 to stabilize the property tax rate.