The state’s second-biggest agriculture business is horses, according to a study by a coalition of equine and agriculture interests that gathered at the state Capitol.
In 2011, almost 33,000 full-time-equivalent jobs in New York were connected to horses, with a total impact worth almost $4.2 billion in the state’s economy. The report also indicated that the industry contributes $187 million in state and local taxes.
There are currently about 157,500 horses in the state, with the report indicating an economic impact of more than $92,000 per racing horse, with about eight jobs connected to every 10 racehorses.
According to the report released last week, the equine industry suffered a dark period from 2004 to 2011, when 4,000 thoroughbred industry jobs disappeared, 400 thoroughbred farms were closed and more than half of the thoroughbred breeding stallions were shipped out of state.
Richard Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said these trends are turning around, with farms being reopened, trainers moving back into the state and racehorses coming to the state.
In large part, this success is being credited to the investment of video lottery terminal revenue in higher purses, resulting in races that are more attractive for horse owners. This funding source also contributes to the state’s breeders and horsemen.
The result has been a growth in gambling, with a roughly 10 percent increase at the Saratoga Race Course this summer, while national gambling has remained mostly flat.
Jeff Cannizzo, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders, said this investment in thoroughbred racing has made the state very attractive to thoroughbred breeders, who now had an incentive to grow in New York. He described the transition as “bust” to “boom.”
Cannizzo added the equine industry is second only to the dairy industry in the state’s agriculture market.
This investment in purses, which started this year for thoroughbred racing, has been going on longer for harness racing, which has seen a huge growth in stud fees for standardbred stallions. Joe Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners Association, said in a statement that this revenue has contributed to a renaissance in the harness industry that has increased business for veterinarians, farmers, feed suppliers and other linked professionals.
Jim Gagliano, president of The Jockey Club, a national body that wasn’t associated with the report, said, “This report quantifies the role racing plays in creating jobs and generating revenue for New York.”
Regarding recent drug policies enacted by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, which makes the state’s rules some of the strictest in the country, Gagliano added: “[The report] makes the argument for why reforming racing in a way that protects the health of the horses and ensures the integrity of the sport is so important.”
The overall economic impact of the industry has grown by about $1.8 billion since 2005, the last time a statewide report of this nature was commissioned.
There has been some criticism that horse racing is a dying industry, but proponents of the equine industry dispute this claim. Regardless, defenders of the state’s equine industry point to jobs and handle figures that put New York near the top of the country in horse racing and recreation. The report argues that the state is an exception to national trends because of the investment of electronic gambling revenue into the equine industry.
Violette acknowledged that the state’s industry isn’t in a perfect place, noting for example that the number of horse births isn’t ideal, but said there are a lot of indicators to be encouraged by. He highlighted the good sales numbers for New York horses this year.
State Sen. John Bonacic, a Republican who chairs the Senate Racing Committee, stressed that jobs connected to the horse industry weren’t isolated to the immediate area of the state’s 11 racetracks.
The Saratoga Race Course employs more than 1,500 part-time employees each summer and at the Saratoga Casino & Raceway there are more than 600 full- or part-time employees, but this includes people who aren’t connected to the harness racing on the site.
The state’s 11 racetracks, which include the Saratoga Race Course and the Saratoga Casino & Raceway, are responsible for about $1 billion of the equine industry’s economic impact.
The largest portion of the economic impact stems from breeders, trainers and racehorse owners, who make up about 50 percent of the state’s jobs directly linked to horses. There are more than 2,300 breeding, training and racing enterprises in the state.
The recreation horse industry is worth about half of the economic impact statewide and a little less than half of the jobs, with most of them coming from recreation owners and stables.
The 23,000 recreation owners and stables also make up about $1.2 billion of spending in the state.