Monticello Raceway Shutting Down Casino on Tuesday, Workers Fear Racing Soon to Follow

Posted on: April 18, 2019, 01:58h. 

Last updated on: April 18, 2019, 01:58h.

The end is near for machine gaming at Monticello Casino & Raceway, as Empire Resorts plans to shut down the track’s video-lottery terminals (VLTs) next Tuesday after 15 years.

Monticello Raceway VLTs
Monticello Raceway will be shutting down its casino operations, with some fearing that racing itself may not last much longer. (Image: Kelly Marsh/Times Herald-Record)

The elimination of the slots-like machines comes a little over a year after the opening of the nearby Resorts World Catskills casino, which is located just six miles away from the racetrack.

Racino Overshadowed by Nearby Resort

Empire Resorts owns both venues, and it was all but inevitable that the massive resort would overshadow the limited casino gaming options that are present at Monticello Raceway. While the 1,100 VLTs were once a major attraction, they can’t compete with the full range of casino gambling options visitors can find at the nearby resort.

“There is not enough business that remains at that VLT facility to justify the cost of operating it,” Empire Resorts president and CEO Ryan Eller told the USA Today Network’s Albany Bureau last week.

The planned closure of the VLT area was first announced in January. The Poughkeepsie Journal reported this week that attendance at the racino has been light since the opening of Resorts World Catskills, with the newspaper estimating that about 50 people were in the 1,100-machine VLT hall last Wednesday afternoon.

There has been talk of moving those machines to another location, though there could be a fight over where exactly the VLT gambling goes.

There is legislation in the New York State Assembly that would allow the Catskill Off-Track Betting Corp. to take over the machines, spreading them out over three different locations in the region. However, Empire Resorts has fought against that plan, suggesting instead that it could build a new VLT location in Orange County that would host 1,100 machines.

“We’re eager to explore various options to preserve the Monticello Raceway operations, and relocating the raceway video-gaming machines to Orange County would definitely go a long way to that goal,” Eller told the Poughkeepsie Journal.

Racing Faces Uncertain Future at Monticello

But workers at the Monticello Raceway have more immediate concerns. About 160 jobs were eliminated, though workers were offered severance packages or jobs at the Resorts World Catskills casino. That leaves only about 40 employees currently working at the racetrack.

That has led to questions over how much longer Empire Resorts will support racing at Monticello, something that might be little more than an afterthought for the casino operator.

“Not so long ago, they said they needed the video lottery terminals or they’d close the track,” Catskill Off-Track Betting Corp. president Donald Groth told the Times Herald-Record earlier this month. “Does anyone think they’re going to keep running the track now without the support of those VLTs?”

A recent report by the Herald-Record noted that track attendance has been “negligible” for weekday afternoon racing, and while both casino management and an attorney for the Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association have insisted that the raceway is contractually required to stay open, there are many who fear racing may simply become unsustainable.

Empire Resorts might be more inclined to support Monticello Raceway if their $1 billion Resorts World Catskills was meeting expectations. Instead, the casino has continued to fall well short of revenue projections, and the New York State Gaming Commission has approved a request by Empire Resorts to lower the number of slot machines at the casino by 550, reducing the minimum requirement from 2,150 machines to just 1,600.