Aqueduct Casino, More VLTs Possible in '08 Plan

New York state officials said talks are under way to permit construction to proceed on a casino at Aqueduct, and a crack has opened to possibly permit more video lottery terminals in the state. Additionally, there is a plan by the state to provide more public assistance to keep the New York Racing Association afloat through 2007.

Aides to Gov. Eliot Spitzer said the state assumes revenue will start flowing to state government in the spring of 2008, which means a deal with NYRA would have to be completed soon for the project to be completed by about a year from now.

“We’re working on that,’’ said Laura Anglin, the first deputy budget director in Spitzer’s office.

In 2001, the state approved the expansion of VLTs at most racetracks in New York. But delays first at NYRA and a later dispute with the state has left the Aqueduct project stalled despite assurances by MGM Mirage, NYRA’s partner in the deal, that it still wants to proceed with the casino.

The previous governor, George Pataki, did not approve a contract between NYRA and MGM, a needed step for the work to begin, partly because of concerns over NYRA’s land claims dispute. NYRA has insisted--and is still doing so in bankruptcy court --that it owns Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga, and can hold onto the properties even if it is no longer the holder of the next Thoroughbred franchise.

NYRA’s franchise to run racing, held since 1955, expires at the end of the year. The state has insisted it owns the land, and is in bankruptcy court trying to get NYRA’s case tossed out.

Spitzer, who took office a month ago, unveiled his 2007 state budget plan Jan. 31. It assumes no revenue-sharing proceeds from the Aqueduct casino in the upcoming fiscal year that ends March 31, 2008. But his fiscal aides said the state does expect proceeds to start rolling in with the start of the next fiscal year April 1, 2008.

For that to happen, a deal would have to be ironed out soon because NYRA officials have said it could take up to a year to get the casino, with its 4,500 VLTs, completed. By 2009, the state expects to receive $357 million a year from the Aqueduct facility, according to budget documents.

Meanwhile, there is a mysterious line in one budget document that talks of a further expansion of VLTs in the state. The state assumes no revenue this year, but by 2009 the state counts on getting $357 million in revenue from “a VLT expansion program.” Spitzer budget aides said there is some discussion of expanding VLT offerings downstate--which could include Belmont or somewhere else--but that a final resolution has not been reached ,and no specific legislation was made with the governor’s new budget proposal.

The governor’s budget also proposes to extend for one year several expiring provisions of racing law, including authorization of in-home simulcasting and provisions pertaining to simulcasting of out-of-state races. The measures would apply to whichever group holds the Thoroughbred franchise beginning next January.

The budget plan also includes an appropriation of $23 million to NYRA to enable it to continue operating through the end of the year. That is presumably on top of other bailouts NYRA has received from the state over the past year.

Also, the budget includes $3 million to fund the operations and “contractual obligations’’ of a state panel that oversees NYRA’s finances.