Friday, May 29, 2009

Naming of Aqueduct Racino Operator Pushed Back by Paul Post - Thoroughbred Times

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The process of vetting Aqueduct gaming bidders is expected to delay the naming of an operator until after New York’s legislative session ends in late June, state officials said.

That could spell trouble for the New York Racing Association, which said it might run out of operating cash by late 2010 without an infusion of gaming revenue. NYRA President Charles Hayward will discuss this, the upcoming Saratoga Race Course meet, and related issues during an event hosted by Parting Glass Racing tonight in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Six firms are vying for the contract to run Aqueduct’s proposed racino with 4,500 video lottery terminals.

"All bidders will be vetted by the governor's office, the legislature, the New York Lottery, Empire State Development, Office of General Services, and the Division of the Budget," Morgan Hook, a spokesman for New York Governor David Paterson, said Wednesday. "This is a critical part of the process for selecting a bidder and will take multiple weeks."

"Nothing’s going to happen before the end of the legislative session on June 22," said Gary Pretlow (D-Yonkers), chairman of the Assembly Racing, Wagering, and Gaming Committee.

Pretlow made the prediction based on "history; experience with the way things go around here."

Racino construction is expected to take at least one year and probably longer, which means NYRA and other racing stakeholders, such as breeders and horsemen, will not receive a share of VLT revenues until late 2010, and that is if an operator is named this summer. If the selection process drags on, the racino will not open until 2011.

The decision requires three-way approval by the governor, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens), and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). Pretlow said he expects Smith and Silver to confer with legislative members before making a decision.

"It’s going to be difficult to figure out which one is the best deal for the state," he said. "I hope they just don’t pick the one that offers the most money to the state. I have not seen any of the proposals yet."

Some parties, such as the group International Racing Management, want bidders to publicly present plans.

"Everyone deserves to hear what these companies would do to attract people back to racing," IRM President Pam Stokes Donehower said.

But Assembly member Audrey Pheffer (D-Queens) said bidders should first prove they have solid financial backing before getting the public excited with extravagant plans.

"The governor’s been burned already," she said.

Last October, Paterson named Delaware North Companies to run Aqueduct’s gaming facility. The organization pledged the state $370-million as an up-front payment, but later said it could not obtain financing by the March 31 deadline. Paterson reopened the bidding process and on May 8 Delaware North submitted new bids along with Penn National Gaming, The Peebles Corporation, SL Green Realty Corporation, Aqueduct Entertainment Group, and Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn.

Paul Post is a New York-based correspondent for THOROUGHBRED TIMES