Cuomo Backs Off Aqueduct Casino Project
by Tom Precious
Date Posted: 6/1/2012 9:52:28 PM
Last Updated: 6/2/2012 11:21:31 PM

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Photo: AP Photo

With support never reaching a groundswell, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is backing off plans to construct a massive casino and convention center with a Malaysian-based gambling conglomerate on the grounds of the Aqueduct Racetrack.

The governor, who had proposed the world’s largest convention center at the Queens racetrack, broke the news in a radio interview June 1 with his predecessor, Gov. David Paterson, the host of a New York City radio show.

“The conversations really hadn’t worked out,’’ Cuomo told Paterson on WOR radio.

The governor’s retreat comes as a number of casino companies and developers have approached state officials in recent weeks pitching various gambling ideas. Lawmakers approved a first step to permitting up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos in the state, a plan that could go to voters in November 2013.

Sources say major gambling companies have promoted everything from casino developments on New York City’s Governors Island to a high-stakes, mid-town Manhattan casino for high-rollers with admission fees of $500 or more. A number of top casino companies -- from Boyd Gaming Corp. to MGM Resorts International -- have lobbyists retained in Albany on the casino issue. Sources say the firms have presented ideas for casino developments in New York City.

MGM wasted no time moving on Cuomo’s announcement. Alan Feldman, a MGM spokesman, said the Las Vegas-based company is “continuing to explore opportunities’’ for what he called “unique’’ destination resorts in the state. [Cuomo has often used the term “destination’’ for the type of casino developments he wants in the state.]

“The governor’s vision creates an exciting opportunity for MGM to help achieve the state’s economic development goals,’’ Feldman said.

Cuomo told Paterson on the radio show that other casino companies are in talks with the state, but he declined to elaborate.

Cuomo had hailed the Aqueduct project as one of the cornerstones of his administration’s economic development efforts in New York City. He said it would provide for new real estate initiatives in mid-town Manhattan around the aging Javits convention center.

Cuomo last year floated the idea of the convention center and casino at Aqueduct to be run by Genting Resorts World New York, the operators of the new VLT-only casino at Aqueduct. The governor’s new comments come just a week after his administration and the New York Racing Association cut a deal to have a state-dominated board of directors run the racing group at Aqueduct and two other tracks for the next three years.

A couple hours after Cuomo’s comments, administration officials sought to further explain the new developments to back away what had been a major theme even in the governor’s State of the State address this year. Howard Glaser, the governor’s state operations director who also played a major role in the recent NYRA negotiations, said the administration still believes a new convention center is needed in New York City.

Glaser said talks with Genting have “not produced a resolution that is satisfactory for the state.’’ He said negotiations have been “made difficult’’ by uncertainty over the future of gambling expansion in New York.

Glaser declined to provide details on talks with other gambling entities, but said the “clearest way forward appears to be a single, international competition once the fate of the casino legislation and referendum has been determined.’’

Cuomo has declined to say where he thinks new casinos should be located, insisting those details can be left to next year when the Legislature is expected to consider a second required passage of a constitutional amendment permitting full casinos on non-Indian owned lands.

“Planning and developing a comprehensive statewide approach would also allow the state to develop a coordinated plan that addresses the related issues like NYRA’s role and relationship in the new gaming world,’’ Glaser said.

Resorts World sought to put a positive spin on the developments, saying in a statement Friday evening that it “welcomes the governor’s approach as the uncertainties and difficulties regarding the constitutional amendment, competitive landscape, tax rate, and infrastructure support made any decision difficult.’’

The company said it continues to want to work with Cuomo on New York investments, including at the Aqueduct site.

NYRA insiders for months believe the state is interested in eventually closing Aqueduct. That theory had only intensified with the deal last week to have the state take over the running of NYRA for the next three years. Legislation implementing that NYRA takeover deal has not yet been introduced at the Capitol.



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