Anne M. Eberhardt

Aqueduct Casino Project Moves Forward

Bidders vying for rights to develop a casino at Aqueduct passed background check.

The three bidders vying for lucrative rights to develop a casino at Aqueduct racetrack in New York have all passed a critical background check by the state, Governor David Paterson said July 20.

The governor, who along with two legislative leaders will be making the final say as to who gets the casino contract, said the three groups were all cleared by the state inspector general's office.

"We now started to discuss a process by which we pick a winner,'' Paterson said following a meeting with the heads of the state Senate and Assembly at the governor's mansion. The topic of the Aqueduct casino operator was just a brief point of discussion between Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver during their hour-long session.

The entities competing include Delaware North; SL Green and Hard Rock Entertainment; and Capital Play and Mohegan Sun. The background checks would not have been completed this week had Karl O'Farrell continued in his role as president of Capital Play; officials with the group said O'Farrell recently stepped down as Capital Play president because documents needed to complete the background check were not immediately available, and so, to push the process along, he relinquished his role as president.

The state is losing more than $1 million for every day the Aqueduct casino is not operating. State officials had been hoping to announce a winner of the casino project, which will include 4,500 VLT machines, before the New York Racing Association opened its Saratoga meet this week. Officials recently said, however, that appears increasingly unlikely.

If Paterson, Skelos, or Silver have a favorite in the competition, they have not let on publicly.

The Aqueduct casino project was first approved by the legislature in 2001. It has languished ever since through a serious of financial, legal, and political setbacks. The endeavor is expected to bring more than $400 million a year to the state in a revenue sharing deal, and also added money for purses and a Thoroughbred breeding fund.