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Paterson set to announce Aqueduct video lottery choice

It has been eight years since lawmakers approved

It has been eight years since lawmakers approved a plan to install as many as 4,500 gambling machines at Aqueduct Racetrack. (Dec. 15, 2009) Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY - Gov. David A. Paterson will announce in a week his choice to bring video lottery terminals to Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, a project stalled for eight years.

He said Friday that he would declare a preference among five bidders in hopes of securing the necessary approval of legislative leaders. The 4,500 slotlike gambling machines were authorized in 2001 but an operator must be selected jointly by the governor, State Senate majority chief and Assembly speaker.

The leaders are facing two deadlines.

The fiscal year ends March 31, and they want to use the operator's $200-million upfront fee to help close the budget deficit. The financially troubled New York Racing Association, which runs Aqueduct and the Belmont Park track in Elmont, has also threatened to cancel the June 5 Belmont Stakes unless the Aqueduct operator has been named.

"If the two leaders cannot come to a conclusion . . . about which group should be the sponsoring organization, then I think I will be forced - as I did last year - to announce my group and hope to persuade the two other leaders," Paterson told reporters.

Delaware North Cos. was selected in October 2008 but withdrew five months later after failing to raise the $370-million upfront payment. The Buffalo company had the support of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and then-Senate chief Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).

The upfront payment then was lowered and bidders sought. A selection was to be made by Aug. 1.

But Friday, Paterson said Silver and the Senate's new leader, John Sampson (D-Brooklyn), were procrastinating.

However, Silver, through a spokesman, blamed Paterson for the delay. "We have been waiting months for the governor to make a decision regarding Aqueduct and we are glad he is close to making that decision," spokesman Dan Weiller said.

A Sampson aide declined to comment.

The bidders include Delaware North and a group led by SL Green Realty and Hard Rock Cafe International.

NYRA president Charles Hayward said it would be "thrilled when the selection of the VLT operator at Aqueduct is finalized." NYRA is facing another cash crunch as horse racing attendance continues to fall. Experts forecast the video lottery terminals would generate more than $1 million per day at the Queens track.

Paterson discussed Aqueduct during an open house at the Executive Mansion in Albany. About 300 people were selected from a lottery to meet Paterson and wife, Michelle Paige.

Paterson, who was educated in Hempstead, was happy to meet the Rimmer family of Port Washington, saying, "finally, someone from Long Island."

David Rimmer, a business executive, said he, wife, Jennifer, and their teenage daughters, Amy and Caroline, found Paterson to be "very personable . . . I'm glad we came up here."

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