Spectators fill the Belmont Park grandstand for the horse races preceding...

Spectators fill the Belmont Park grandstand for the horse races preceding the 2023 Belmont Stakes. Credit: James Escher

ALBANY — A judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit by animal-rights activists seeking to block a $455 million state loan to the New York Racing Association to renovate Belmont Park’s horse racing track and grandstand.

Activists had claimed the loan package, approved by Gov. Kathy Hochul and the State Legislature, violated a state constitutional ban on loans for private purposes.

But Justice Peter Lynch of state Supreme Court, Albany County, disagreed.

“It is well settled that the constitutional prohibition against state loans to private entities or for private undertakings is not applicable where the loan is for a predominantly a public purpose,” Lynch wrote in a 17-page decision. “Funding the renovation of Belmont Park Racetrack constitutes just such a public purpose!”

Lynch noted that while NYRA is a private organization, Belmont Park sits on land owned by the state and that its renovation is “in furtherance of a predominantly public purpose.” He likened it to state assistance given to other sporting venues, such as football stadiums.

The lawsuit was filed by two supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Jannette Patterson of Manhattan and John Di Leonardo of Moriches, who also is president of Humane Long Island.

Di Leonardo, in an email, said: “I'm disappointed in the result and currently assessing legal options moving forward.” He added horse racing “should never be propped up by taxpayer dollars.”

NYRA has said the loan would be used to make extensive Belmont renovations and fulfill a plan to consolidate downstate racing there while scuttling racing at its other downstate venue, Aqueduct. NYRA is supposed to repay the loan. Separately, gambling interests are expected to bid for a license to turn Aqueduct into a full-time casino.

NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna said Lynch’s decision “recognizes the importance of this transformational project, which will deliver the world-class Belmont Park that New Yorkers deserve.”

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