2010-07-23 / Top Stories

Battle Over Aqueduct Racino Takes Several Turns

By Howard Schwach

City Councilmember Eric Ulrich at a recent Community Board 10 presentation on Genting’s plans for the Aqueduct Racino. City Councilmember Eric Ulrich at a recent Community Board 10 presentation on Genting’s plans for the Aqueduct Racino. Governor David Paterson’s plan was to announce the winner of the Aqueduct Racetrack Racino sweepstakes on August 3, ending a decade of financial and political maneuvering over who would get to run the lucrative facility.

Just this month, the field was cut to one. A Malaysian corporation named Genting was deemed by the State Lottery Commission to be the only viable bidder in the most recent process, when the other two prospective bidders built contract considerations into their bids that were deemed to be against the bidding rules.

All of that came on the heels of the prior bidding process, in which Paterson and state legislative leaders gave the nod to the Aqueduct Entertainment Group, led by political heavyweight Floyd Flake. Ultimately, after charges of political cronyism and favoritism, and a number of grand jury investigations, AEG was deemed “unlicensable” by the state and the process was started anew.

Now, however, a week before Paterson was poised to name Genting the winner, a state Supreme Court judge has ordered a halt to the process so that he can consider a lawsuit brought by AEG against the state for rescinding its Racino contract.

A hearing on whether or not there should be a long-term hold on the process while AEG pursues its suit against the state is scheduled for today, July 23.

AEG has named the Lottery Division, Governor Paterson, Senate President Malcolm Smith and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in its lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that the Lottery Division unfairly changed the rules after AEG was chosen as the winner of the gambling Racino bid. It claims that the decision to declare AEG ineligible for a gambling license had “no rational basis and was arbitrary and capricious, and was an abuse of discretion.”

On Thursday, July 15, Genting gave a presentation to the South Ozone Park community and to Community Board 10.

City Councilman Eric Ulrich, who was at the presentation, has misgivings about the Genting presentation.

Ulrich said, “Genting put together a very impressive presentation with many strong merits. However, there are still many questions to be answered. I look forward to working with other stakeholders, including residents, to make sure that this will be a dream come true for Ozone Park and does not turn out to be a nightmare.”

Ulrich added that transportation to the proposed Racino could become a problem, especially in light of the MTA’s transportation cuts.

“It is unclear whether Genting, which plans to move gamblers to the Racino by A Train, will be able to rely on an already overburdened public transportation system,” Ulrich said. “It is that issue, among others, that needs to be addressed before approval is granted.”

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, who was also at the presentation, is not so sure about Genting’s plans for a Las Vegas type facility.

“Having showgirls dance while gamblers use the video slot machines went over like a lead balloon,” Pheffer said. “That was a mistake. Scantilly-clad dancers are not what the community wants for this facility.”

A number of Queens politicians announced last week that they are not sure they want a gambling facility at Aqueduct in the first place.

Instead, they want an office park built at the Aqueduct site, a proposal they insist, that will bring jobs and economic development to the community.

“I think that some sort of mixed-use, airport-related development would have a more significant impact on the community,” said Hugh O’Neill, who studied the site for the Center for an Urban Future. He added that the politicians seem to be aiming for what would bring in the most money, not what would be best for the community.

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