Suit Challenges VLTs, Other Gambling in New York

A lawsuit is being filed Jan. 29 in the state Supreme Court challenging New York's sweeping gambling legislation that permits most racetracks across to install video lottery terminals.

The group that filed the lawsuit hopes for an injunction barring tracks from operating VLTs this fall. The group includes the head of the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, which doesn't want the Saratoga Equine Sports Center, a harness track, to have the machines.

Cornelius Murray, an Albany lawyer who represents the group, said the VLT portion of the gambling package illegally steers money to the racing industry. He said the state constitution requires that revenues raised by the state Lottery Division, which is oversees the VLT program, be turned over to education.

Murray said the VLT provision "masquerades as a bill for education when it really is a bailout for the horse racing industry."

The lawsuit further illustrates the split within the Saratoga community over VLTs. Sources said the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce is putting money into the lawsuit, but many business and political interests in the county are pushing for VLTs at the harness track. The New York Racing Association, which operates Saratoga's Thoroughbred track, opposes VLTs at the harness track.

The lawsuit also seeks to overturn the state's attempt to strike deals with Indian tribes for up to six casinos -- three in western New York and three in the Catskill Mountain region. The plaintiffs claim the state constitution does not permit the kind of commercial casinos -- with slot machines -- sought by Gov. George Pataki and tribal leaders are pushing. In addition, the lawsuit challenges the state's entry in a multi-state lottery game.

The Pataki administration said the law was written to withstand such legal challenges. Joseph Conway, a Pataki spokesman, said the lawsuit will not stop the state's plans to expand gambling. The October law represents the greatest single expansion of gambling in state history.

Some gambling supporters said the lawsuit, if an injunction is granted, could seriously delay the start-up of some of the new betting programs.