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EDITORIAL: Aqueduct racino bidding process was a race to the bottom

Most New Yorkers have had more than enough evidence in recent years to conclude that their state government is a sinkhole of corruption. Now comes a blistering report from the state's inspector general that should curdle the optimism of any holdouts.

The report delves into the selection of a company to build a racino of electronic slot machines at Aqueduct Raceway in Queens. What the investigation found was a political free-for-all of lobbying, campaign donations and manipulation leading to the selection in January of the Aqueduct Entertainment Group, a firm that offered the state $100 million less than other bidders. Days after the announcement, Gov. David Paterson met with an influential Queens clergyman - who had an interest in AEG - to discuss an endorsement.

AEG may have been a dubious choice to run the racino, but it stood out - among a field of strong contenders - in its use of political connections. All the firms hired lobbyists (AEG retained seven) and collectively dumped more than $100,000 in political contributions onto key lawmakers and the governor. AEG associates gave more than $40,000 to Democratic State Senate campaigns.

Most remarkable of all was the selection process. Unrestrained by any objective criteria - or knowledge of gaming - key state senators and even the governor's driver pushed for AEG, which was given inside information about its competitors' bids and then the chance to change its own. (The driver was David Johnson, now charged with assault in a domestic violence case that led Paterson to abandon his re-election bid.)

The AEG selection was later canceled in favor of a more suitable company chosen in a more suitable process. But the whole sordid affair perfectly encapsulates the ethical climate of Albany. It's not even clear that the manipulations involved were illegal, since the procurement process had so few rules. Tough new regulations are just what we need - and tough new legislators, with some sense of decency, to adopt them. hN