The state of New York should abandon efforts to find new bidders to develop a video lottery terminal casino at Aqueduct and instead tap the New York Racing Association to run the long-delayed facility, a leading state lawmaker believes.
“They have the plans. They have the place. Everything is all set up," said Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Democrat who chairs the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee.
Pretlow said NYRA should be eligible to receive funding under the recently approved federal stimulus package, which state officials will be distributing, because the site qualifies as a “shovel-ready” project.
The Aqueduct project, first approved in 2001, has been thrown into another state of confusion following the recent decision by Delaware North, which last year was selected to run the VLT casino, bowed out after being unable to pay the state a $370-million franchise fee. Gov. David Paterson, facing a soaring state deficit that has reached $16.2 billion in the fiscal year beginning April 1, said the state would begin a new process to find bidders.
But Pretlow said the state can’t afford to wait any longer. Officials estimate the government is losing $1 million a day in revenue-sharing funds because the facility is not open. Before Delaware North, MGM Mirage was in line to develop the casino, but a host of delays eventually scuttled that effort.
Pretlow said if his fellow Democrat, the governor, proceeds with another full-fledged bidding process, “We will be right back where we are. We’d need a year to do the proposal, and then hearings, then they’d make presentations. They’d spend a lot of money printing fancy booklets. And they’re all going to be full of crap anyway.”
Instead, Pretlow said NYRA could piggyback onto the work already done earlier during the MGM Mirage effort, including using existing architectural reviews and already-approved environmental studies. He said the idea would be to develop just a VLT casino at the track, leaving other ventures, such as hotel and retail space, for the future.
The federal stimulus package money can be used for a variety of infrastructure and other projects in New York. The key, however, is that they be shovel-ready in order to get projects, and jobs, moving quickly.
“They could start construction tomorrow," Pretlow said of NYRA.
The lawmaker said NYRA could run the project itself, or retain a manager to oversee the operations, as is done at a handful of other racetrack casinos in New York. Officials said state law prohibits NYRA from being directly involved in the casino operation.
“If it is (banned), we can change that because to waste another year with developers who are just basically greedy that want the most for themselves, I don’t think is worth it," Pretlow said.
Pretlow said the state could make far more money under his proposal because it would not have to share as much of the casino revenue with NYRA, a not-for-profit entity, as it would with a for-profit corporation. Also, he said getting the casino open sooner will lessen the chance that the state has to again bail out NYRA.
The lawmaker said he has gotten a warm reception to the idea inside the Assembly and also from NYRA. “I think they like the idea," he said.
Pretlow said he plans on presenting the idea to the Paterson administration soon. “I want to see something happen. We’ve been wasting years," Pretlow said.