ALBANY Revenue at seven of the state's nine racinos was down during the first five months of the year compared to the same period in 2013, records show.
The facilities attributed the drop off largely to bad winter weather and said they expected to rebound during the second half of the year.
The net win at the nine racetracks – the amount of money left after payouts to winners – was down 2 percent between January and May, according to the state Lottery Division, a drop of $16.6 million. Only Resorts World in Queens and Batavia Downs in western New York saw gains so far this year.
At some of the facilities, the drop was stark: the net win at Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier was down 8.3 percent, and Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway was down 7 percent. The largest decline, 18 percent, was the Buffalo Raceway in Hamburg, Erie County.
"Weekend after weekend of rain and snow most certainly had a chilling effect on our first quarter numbers," Taryn Duffy, a spokeswoman for Empire City, said in a statement.
Jeff Gural, owner of Tioga Downs, said the weather coupled with a Mohegan Sun casino hotel that opened near Scranton, Pa., hurt the facility's revenue.
"I think a bad winter and the fact that Mohegan Sun opened a hotel," Gural said. "I think that was a good idea on their part, and they have been very aggressively promoting it."
Gural is among 19 bidders for four casino licenses the state will award this fall. Last year, the state approved the legalization of four privately owned casinos in three regions: the Southern Tier, the Catskills and Albany area.
The existing racetracks have raised concerns about the impact of new casinos, and Gural said he would add a hotel and amenities if he was awarded one of the licenses. There are two competing casino proposals in the region.
Finger Lakes Racetrack and Casino in Farmington, Ontario County, and Batavia Downs have fought attempts by the Seneca Nation of Indians to build a casino in neighboring Monroe County.
Between January and May, Finger Lakes had a 2 percent drop in its net win. But Batavia Downs was up 9 percent – the largest increase in the state. Batavia Downs, which is owned by Western Regional Off-Track Betting, is undergoing an expansion.
"It's a testament to the people that work here and just the type of programs we have," said Batavia Downs spokesman Ryan Hasenauer.
Finger Lakes spokesman Steve Martin said they expect a better second half of the year. The facility has also undergone an expansion.
"We feel the slow start to the year was impacted largely by the longer and more severe winter this year that altered guest visitation patterns," Martin said. "With our recent expansion and additional summer entertainment options kicking in, we are optimistic looking forward."
Empire City, which also completed an expansion, has a summer concert series that starts July 6, Duffy said.
New York already has the largest gambling revenues in the nation at $3.2 billion – twice as large as California and Florida combined.
Assemblyman Racing Committee chairman Gary Pretlow, D-Yonkers, said the racinos' recent woes are indicative of a struggling gambling market across the nation. The Northeast is nearly saturated with 55 casinos, experts have said.
"Everybody is down because money is down," Pretlow said. "There is only so much gaming money that is around."
Last month, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli warned that New York may not see an economic boom from the four upstate casinos because gamblers may just shift to the new places and hurt the existing ones.
The racinos are pushing the state Legislature to provide them more opportunities to expand revenue, such as increased hours and more free-play incentives to draw in customers.
Lee Park, a spokesman for the state Gaming Commission, said the drop in revenue is not reason for concern. Between January through May, total Lottery revenue, including for traditional lottery games, was down 3.2 percent compared to the same period in 2013 – largely because of a record Powerball jackpot in May 2013.
On Thursday, the commission put out a report that showed lottery sales and video lottery terminal net win totaled $9.2 billion for the fiscal year that ended in March. That led to a 4.2 percent increase in revenue for education.
"There are fluctuations, just like any business, but it's clear that the overall trend on VLT revenue has been trending up," Park said. "After a full decade of operation, VLT revenue increased statewide this year by 4.8 percent to a record total of $1.91 billion."