MGM Mirage Moving Ahead With Plans for Casino at Aqueduct

MGM Mirage, keeping a watchful eye on developments for New York's Thoroughbred franchise, is preparing to move ahead with plans to construct a casino at Aqueduct.

MGM officials notified a New York state government panel overseeing the franchise bidding process that it can have the video lottery terminal casino up and running by the "latter part" of 2007.

The letter, intended to remind all parties in the franchise wars that MGM Mirage intends to be involved no matter who wins the rights to run racing at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga, also said an effort is under way to have a federal bankruptcy court recognize its VLT contract.

The New York Racing Association, which placed third in the recent non-binding decision by a state panel to recommend Excelsior Racing Associates be the next franchise-holder, will tell a bankruptcy court it wants to continue its agreements with MGM Mirage to run the Aqueduct casino.

The casino deal between NYRA and MGM has been stalled for several years. Currently, a state agency – the Lottery Division – has yet to approve a contract for the casino deal between NYRA and MGM Mirage. NYRA recently sought bankruptcy protection in the face of a worsening cash-flow crisis.

Patrick Kehoe, NYRA's general counsel, last week told MGM Mirage officials in a letter that NYRA plans to ask the federal bankruptcy court in Manhattan to "seek confirmation" of the casino contract with the company.

"NYRA appreciates MGM's steadfastness throughout its relationship with NYRA, and we look forward to re-commencing the VLT project at Aqueduct Racetrack in the very near future," Kehoe wrote to Gary Jacobs, MGM Mirage executive vice president.

The legal assurances came as some NYRA supporters believe its opponents in the franchise bidding war – Excelsior and Empire Racing Associates – may want to replace MGM Mirage with another company to run the casino at Aqueduct.

In a letter to the franchise bidding committee, Jacobs sought to remind the panel that the committee told bidders MGM Mirage's five-year management contract to run the Aqueduct casino would carry over to whoever holds the next franchise. The NYRA franchise expires Dec. 31, 2007.

"Because NYRA's current franchise extends to Dec. 31, 2007, assuming timely action by the bankruptcy court and the Lottery, MGM Mirage VLT facility at Aqueduct would open during the latter part of 2007 and would thereby generate some $500 million in incremental revenue to the state of New York over and above the franchise bid payments," Jacobs wrote Nov. 27 to Robert Williams, executive director of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing. "MGM Mirage has been and is ready, willing and able to move forward with the Aqueduct project."

Jacobs said the letter was to confirm to the committee "MGM Mirage's expectation that the winning bidder will abide by the terms of the RFP (request for proposal) and respect MGM Mirage's rights under the VLT Aqueduct agreements."