Hard Rock Bids for Aqueduct VLTs

The Hard Rock Entertainment chain has bid to operate VLTs at Aqueduct.

A major commercial real estate developer said April 28 it has combined forces with the Hard Rock Entertainment hotel and restaurant chain in a bid with New York state to operate a video lottery terminal casino at Aqueduct.

The deal between SL Green Realty Corp., a Manhattan based company, and Hard Rock would create a sprawling entertainment complex, including restaurants, retail space, and hotels.

The SL Green bid was one of three submitted April 25 to New York Gov. David Paterson, who is expected within a few weeks to choose a VLT operator after several years of stalled efforts to install 4,500 VLT devices at Aqueduct. The other bidders are Delaware North, which already operates several VLT casinos at racetracks in New York, and a consortium that includes Capital Play and Mohegan Sun.

The actual bids were not publicly released by the three competing entities.

The submissions came as the New York Racing Association is operating under a new temporary franchise arrangement, which was approved last week by a state oversight panel. The new deal permits NYRA to continue operating racing until mid-July.

The temporary extensions for NYRA are necessary because the state and NYRA have still not finalized a range of paperwork needed to go ahead with the agreement earlier this year giving NYRA a new 25-year franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga racetracks. The overall plan must also be approved by a federal bankruptcy court judge in Manhattan, where NYRA has had its Chapter 11 protection case for more than a year.

Marc Holliday, chief executive officer of SL Green, said the partnership with Hard Rock will “complement the core horseracing and gaming enterprise at Aqueduct." Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock Entertainment, said the plan calls for turning the track into “an unforgettable destination worldwide.”

For its part, Capital Play said its plan calls for targeting an "upscale audience'' and drawing tourists to the track and new entertainment attractions.

“We have said consistently since the beginning of this process in 2006, that we wanted to create a world-class entertainment venue at Aqueduct, and by doing that we can generate more education revenues for the state,” said Karl O’Farrell, president and chief executive officer of Capital Play.

Capital Play and Mohegan Sun are partnering with Extell, a real estate development company. Mohegan Sun operates a casino in Connecticut and the Pocono Downs racetrack and slots casino in Pennsylvania.

Earlier in the day April 28, state regulators approved NYRA’s racing dates – but only through July 13 to coincide with the expiration of its new extension to run racing. For NYRA to operate its Saratoga meet, another approval will be needed by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, pending final approval of the final set of agreements between NYRA and the Paterson administration.

NYRA said April 28 that Judge James Peck, the bankruptcy judge overseeing its Chapter 11 proceeding, entered an order saying that NYRA had met all the statutory requirements to have its plan to emerge from bankruptcy approved.

“Today’s confirmation represents one of the most significant events in what has been a complex and protracted franchise process,” NYRA chairman C. Steven Duncker said. “With the new franchise legislation in place and the Chapter 11 plan confirmed, we look forward to working with the state to finalize the necessary documents to incorporate and form the new NYRA not-for-profit corporation. It is our hope that we can accomplish this in the very near future, consistent with the terms of the franchise legislation.”

NYRA’s bankruptcy lawyer was not available for comment. But officials said NYRA still needs to get the final set of agreements with the state before it can end its Chapter 11 case.