Nassau County may have just hit the jackpot with the VLT deal at Aqueduct Racetrack, and if the cards are played right, a lot of players will have chances to cash in.
For years, Nassau County and the Nassau Downs Off-Track Betting Corp. have been battling to site 1,000 video-lottery terminals. But first with a Westbury site, then at Belmont Park, proposals were annihilated by community pressure.
Now, after weeks of secret negotiations and extensive work by State Sen. Jack Martins and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, lawmakers in Albany are set to approve a state budget that will authorize the placement of Nassau’s machines at Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack, where Genting New York LLC already operates 5,400 machines. Nassau OTB will get $9 million annually in the first two years while Genting gets the operation rolling, then $25 million a year in perpetuity, plus raises for inflation.
In theory, that means the county will get the revenue it needs from a casino without the responsibility and headaches of building and running one.
After Nassau’s losing record in trying to site a VLT casino, this is a gift. Whether $25 million annually is too little remains to be seen. The money, however, first goes to Nassau OTB, which takes a cut, and then to the county. How much of the cash the floundering OTB soaks up, though, for really doing no work beyond cashing a check is a big question. If Nassau OTB can’t support itself on racing alone, it needs to fold. Using this new stream of county revenue to bolster horse racing is a bad bet. This money is for the taxpayers.
Overall, farming out the machines to Genting seems like a winning move. Having VLTs at both Aqueduct and Belmont, about 10 miles from each other, wouldn’t have been a wise use of resources.
Horse racing has been in trouble for years, and the New York Racing Association has been tasked with creating a future for the three tracks the state owns. This deal clears the way for closing the track at Aqueduct and moving its races to a year-round track at Belmont. That could bring needed development to western Nassau. Meanwhile, don’t be surprised if Genting dusts off plans to use that extra space from the track for a full casino, hotels and convention facilities.
We’ve learned from these clandestine budget negotiations that the fine print always has secrets. From what we know now, however, the deal satisfies many needs and quiets more than a few concerns. The county will gets its money, or at least what it can pry clear of the OTB, and the community can stop agitating about VLTs. Most important, however, Aqueduct and Belmont sites get a shot at a better future.