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Anne M. Eberhardt

Aqueduct Casino Gets Green Light

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has given his approval to Genting New York.

After nine years of on-again, off-again movement, the Aqueduct casino project now seems all but certain to be a done deal.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, as expected, has given his approval to Genting New York’s bid, the final of three sign-offs needed in order for the state to now move ahead and sign a memorandum of understanding with the company.

Sisa Moyo, a spokeswoman for Silver, said the Democratic leader informed Gov. David Paterson of his approval on Aug. 11, a day after Democrats in control of the Senate backed the Genting bid. The development plan for Aqueduct needed the unanimous backing of both legislative leaders and Paterson, who has already signaled his support for Genting.

The final approvals were expected after Genting became the sole bidder standing in what was the fourth process in the past nine years to try to get a casino opened at Aqueduct. Genting offered the state $380 million in an upfront franchise fee payment -- $80 million more than the floor set by the Paterson administration’s lottery division, which handled the bidding process.

Genting has said it can get 1,600 of the 4,500 slot machines up and running within six months of signing an MOU, which is expected in the days or weeks ahead. The remaining slots would be operating six months after that. Genting, which is a subsidiary of a Malaysian-based casino company, has signaled an interest in a larger casino facility on the site in the years ahead – which is subject to state approval.

The Aqueduct casino was first approved about a month after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York; state officials saw the racetrack-based casinos as cash generators for the government. While other racinos popped up across the state in the years since, Aqueduct’s facility became stalled due to a host of political and financial factors. The latest round won by Genting is the fourth bidding process during three different gubernatorial administrations.

For the New York Racing Association, the Genting selection represents a potential way out of its annual cash flow mess, which this year led to threats of having to shut down racing operations before another state cash bailout in the form of a loan.

Charles Hayward, the president of the NYRA, was upbeat after witnessing past Aqueduct casino bids fall apart.

"We are thrilled with the rapid approval of Genting USA plan by the Senate and the Assembly. NYRA is looking forward to working with Genting and the state to make VLTs at Aqueduct a reality,'' Hayward said.

For state officials, the Genting bid represents an immediate flow of cash of $380 million to be used to hopefully help keep the state’s precarious finances balanced.

Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, chairman of the Assembly's racing committee, on Aug. 10 said he believed Silver would back the Genting bid. Pretlow called the Genting plan an important development to help rescue the state's troubled horse racing industry.