Aqueduct race track.

Aqueduct race track.

Adam Coglianese

Table Games, OTB Focus of New York Hearing

Table games and off-track betting were the focus of a New York hearing Feb. 7.

The operators of Aqueduct’s future video lottery terminal casino have begun pressing state officials to permit table games at the facility and New York’s other racetrack casinos.

“We have table games in the surrounding three states,” Michael Speller, president of Resorts World New York, said during a Senate racing committee hearing Feb. 7. “Revenue is flying out of this state.”

The push by Speller, which comes six months or so before the long-stalled Aqueduct casino opens its doors for the first time, came as various stakeholders pressed lawmakers with their own ideas in a post-New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. environment.

Speller called the introduction of table games—banned by the state constitution—a “great opportunity’’ to provide full-service casinos at the tracks instead of the current VLT-only operations. He said the state would be looking at “very, very significant” added tax revenue if the table games were permitted.

“I agree with you,’’ said Sen. John Bonacic, a Republican who is the new head of the Senate racing panel. He said the other casinos in nearby states, including racetrack-based, are “eating our lunch.”

A change in the constitution would require adoption by two separately elected sessions of the state legislature and then backing in a statewide referendum. The earliest such a statewide vote could occur, if the legislature backs such a change, is 2013.

The idea faces a steep climb in the Assembly, which is controlled by New York City Democrats who in the past have been more reluctant than the Senate or governors to expand gambling, particularly full-blown casino gambling near the five boroughs.

In his testimony, New York Racing Association president Charles Hayward floated NYRA’s name if the state is looking to select one operator to run advance deposit wagering platforms in the state. He later said NYRA is trying to take over the remaining off-track betting operations, but noted he is “very concerned” about the finances of those OTB corporations scattered around the state that survive the NYCOTB shutdown in December.

“OTBs overall will not have an operational profit this year,” Hayward said.

Hayward called on the state to consolidate the various regional OTB corporations and to merge operations such as tote programs, phone and Internet wagering systems, and to back creation of a single statewide television and marketing program.

Hayward said though NYRA opposed the shutdown of NYCOTB, the state can realize “tremendous opportunities” if he dramatically changes the way the racing industry has been run and regulated in New York for decades.

“We can make huge strides or keep on doing what we’ve been doing,” he said. The latter choice would result in “disastrous” consequences, Hayward said.

OTB operators, though, said the problem with the industry is not created by their presence.

“When the OTBs fail, the tracks will fail,” said Donald Groth, president of Catskill Off-Track Betting Corp. He said statutory payments to OTBs have been cut to the point that no one was surprised when NYCOTB went out of business.

John Signor, president of the Capital District Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., said tracks are misdirecting their frustration. Instead, he said, out-of-state Internet betting sites have been taking money away from New York-based OTB operators.

“If there was a way to close that spigot, I think you can make a lot of entities healthy in New York state,” Signor said, calling for state lawmakers to regulate out-of-state and off-hore ADW operators. He said his handle would rise by $30 million if those ADW companies were cut out of New York.

“I don’t think it’s as difficult as it’s being made to be,” Signor said of solving some of the industry’s woes in New York.