Saratoga Group Urges Action on VLT Operator

A Saratoga group is urging the state to select an Aqueduct VLT operator.

The Saratoga Race Course Local Advisory Board has asked state government leaders to resolve the issue of selecting an operator for the video lottery terminal project at Aqueduct.

The board sent a letter to New York Gov. David Paterson, Sens. Malcolm Smith and Pedro Espada, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. It is believed the state is losing about $1 million a day in revenue, and the delay is “placing the future of thoroughbred horse racing in New York State in jeopardy,” the board said.

Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga are operated by the New York Racing Association.

The letter suggests racing in New York is “under attack from other states that have installed VLTs,” thus allowing those states to increase purses and invest in capital improvements. The situation has resulted in migration of owners, breeders, and trainers to those states, the board said.

Five bidders have met a financial deadline for the Aqueduct project, which was authorized by the legislature in 2001. There still is no firm date for selection of an operator.

“Our state legislators have a fiduciary responsibility to seek out the most qualified VLT operator in order for New York State to maintain its prominence as a world-class leader in Thoroughbred horse racing,” advisory board chairman Joseph A. Torani said in a statement released Nov. 10.

Revenue from the first five years of VLT operations at Aqueduct is earmarked for between $25 million-$50 million in capital improvements at Saratoga, including improvements to dormitories and barns as well as improvements for safety issues in the grandstand, clubhouse, and picnic areas.

The advisory board was created to act as a liaison between NYRA, the local community, and the state legislature in order to preserve the historic nature of Saratoga and perpetuate Thoroughbred racing. A 2006 Saratoga County-commissioned study found the overall economic impact of racing in the immediate area is more than $200 million and responsible for more than 3,000 jobs.