Coglianese Photos

New York Officials Discussing Casino Ventures

Genting considering initial expansion at Aqueduct if state approves table games.

Genting New York is considering an initial expansion into a 70,000-square-foot area at Aqueduct Racetrack if the state legalizes additional forms of gambling, including table games.

Turning the existing Central Parks Events Center into a table game betting hall is one of the ideas the Malaysian-based gambling giant is eyeing as officials at the state Capitol negotiate various ideas for new casino ventures in New York, sources close to Genting say.

Genting is negotiating with the Cuomo administration over plans to invest $4 billion in the world’s largest convention center on land around Aqueduct that is owned by the state and a public transportation authority.

Officials have insisted the convention center plans are not contingent upon the state okaying an expansion of gambling to offer Las Vegas-style gaming now banned by the state constitution. But a non-binding letter of agreement between the state and Genting does state that the development plan under consideration calls for the 3.8 million square-foot convention center, a 3,000-room hotel -- and expansion of Genting’s new VLT-only casino facility at Aqueduct.

Genting this week released computer-generated photographs of the proposed convention center facility; it has not put out details about what the casino expansion would include. But sources close to the company said the initial plan would be to build out a third floor meeting area space at Aqueduct into a table games facility. The meeting space at Aqueduct would then be accommodated at the new convention center.

New York law requires a state panel that oversees the finances of the New York Racing Association to be in charge of future development efforts on land around Aqueduct. It also mandates that any development be subject to competitive bidding.

“We want to make sure we are in complete compliance with whatever regulations and laws are out there,’’ a Cuomo administration official said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the administration has agreed that the oversight board would have to approve any development plans negotiated between the state and Genting. The oversight board is headed by Robert Megna, who is also Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget advisor.

The competitive bidding provision of law is a bit murkier, however. One school of thought is that the law demands the oversight board engage in a thorough contracting process for development of the rest of the vacant or underused land around the track. In its most recent franchise renewal, NYRA agreed to give up its long-stated claims that it owned the track land and the title rests with the state.

Another line of thinking by some state officials is that the competitive bidding process was already completed with Genting in 2010 when it won the lucrative rights to develop the Aqueduct casino. At the time, Genting also signed a 40-year lease on 67 acres of state land at the racetrack facility with the understanding, officials say, that Genting could construct hotel, retail, or other facilities to complement the casino.

A Cuomo administration official said it was “not the intention of the law’’ that future development on the state-owned land leased by Genting has to be competitively bid – whether the plans call for entertainment and hotel space as originally envisioned or the new proposal for the massive convention center.

Sources with knowledge of the talks also shot down reports that the tentative deal between the state and Genting includes an exclusivity provision to block any other gambling facilities in the other four boroughs of New York City. Were Genting to succeed in its new development plans, market forces alone could take care of such competitive worries in most areas of the city.

The deal-making has brought much speculation – from re-emergence of chatter about moving NYRA racing from Aqueduct to Belmont Park as a way to free up more land at the Queens facility to, as some Republican lawmakers want, casino gambling at Belmont. The ideas being floated are all filled with their own legal and political obstacles.

While the Cuomo administration may strike a deal with Genting, it is far from certain what, if any, form of gambling expansion may occur in New York. Changing the constitution to permit new casino gambling on non-Indian lands requires passage by two separately elected state legislative sessions, and then backing by voters in a statewide referendum. The earliest such a statewide vote could occur is November 2013.

As Cuomo and legislative leaders work to enact a first passage resolution this year, the intent increasingly appears to keep things vague in 2012 and not specifically identify where and how many new casinos could be opened.

Another idea, promoted by some racetracks pressing to have the casino expansion applied to those tracks now with VLT parlors, is to have lawmakers this year pass more than one casino resolution. Such a route would leave the real decision-making until 2013 – after this fall’s legislative elections. Another route is to approve an intentionally vague resolution this year and to accompany next year’s resolution with more specific “enabling’’ legislation.