2010-01-08 / Top Stories

Paterson: Close To Aqueduct Racino Decision

By Howard Schwach

The development of Aqueduct Racetrack will impact the Rockaway peninsula because some of the major roads accessing the peninsula are adjacent to the racetrack site. The development of Aqueduct Racetrack will impact the Rockaway peninsula because some of the major roads accessing the peninsula are adjacent to the racetrack site. For at least the third time in the last six months, Governor David Paterson has promised that he will soon make a decision on which of several developers, some with major political connections, will get his go-ahead to begin construction of a video machine Racino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park.

Paterson said on New Year’s Day that he would pick a vendor “in the next week or so to bring a longplanned Racino of video terminals” to the track.

“If the two other leaders [Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate President Malcolm Smith] cannot come to a decision on which group should be the sponsoring organization then I think that I will be forced to announce my [choice] in the next week or two,” he said.

Paterson and the leaders of the Se n - ate and Assembly have been promising to select a casino operator since early last summer, when the first candidate chosen for the job fell short of earnest money and could not give the state what it needed up front.

Since then, Paterson and legislative leaders have been haggling with the seven bidders, upping the ante and asking for more money up-front; money, experts say, that is necessary to balance the state’s operating budget.

More pressure was put on the state leaders, those experts say, by the recent announcement by the State Racing Association, which operates both Aqueduct and Belmont racetracks in Queens, that it would mostlikely have to cancel some of this year’s racing card, including the nationallyknown Belmont Stakes, one of the legs in the Triple Crown of racing.

Published reports say that Paterson must act quickly if he hopes to negotiate a contract with the chosen bidder before the state’s fiscal year ends on March 31.

If not, the reports say, the $200 million up-front money would have to be added to this year’s $500 million hole in the state budget.

The planned Racino was to host, in addition to hundreds of video gambling machines [slot machines], a 25,000-square-foot buffet with seating for 600 diners, a steakhouse and both Italian and Asian restaurants.

In addition, plans call for a 3,000- seat area that will eventually host concerts and sports events. Officials say it would draw 20,000 people a day and generate $1 million a day in revenue for the state.

Several large consortiums have bid for the rights to build the Racino, including S.L. Green, a company in partnership with Hard Rock Enter - tainment and BET founder Robert Johnson; Aqueduct Entertain ment Group, which includes Queens builder Jeffrey Levin, former Cong res s man Floyd Flake and Darryl Greene (the latter two are close allies of Senate President Smith); Aqueduct Gaming, which is backed by Delaware North and is a large minority-owned architectural firm; Pebbles-MGM Mirage and Penn National Gaming, which operates 19 casinos around the nation.

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