New York Budget Plan Includes VLT Revenue

As racetracks continued to insist they can't make money off New York's new video lottery terminal program, Gov.George Pataki released a state budget proposal that for the first time projects revenue for government from the gambling devices.

The Republican governor has budgeted $61 million in VLT revenues for the state fiscal year that begins April 1. The state Lottery Division, which will run the program, envisions a November start for the machines, though tracks are demanding changes to the law to shift some of the costs they say they can't afford back to the state.

The VLT measure is expected to bring in far more revenue to the state, which is in line to get at least 60% of the money left from VLTs after winnings are paid. The $61-million estimate is for the program's first four months of operation, and it does not necessarily envision that all the tracks will be operating by then.

Meanwhile, efforts continued to permit VLTs at Saratoga Equine Sports Center, a harness track located near the New York Racing Association's Saratoga Thoroughbred track. A public hearing in Saratoga Springs brought out 300 residents and business owners, most of whom prodded county lawmakers to approve VLTs at the harness facility.

The VLTs, under a sweeping gambling law enacted last October, are permitted at Aqueduct and Finger Lakes Thoroughbred tracks, and Monticello Raceway, Vernon Downs, and Yonkers Raceway, three harness tracks. They are banned at Belmont Park and Saratoga. At three other harness tracks -- Batavia Downs, Buffalo Raceway, and Saratoga -- county legislatures must first approve VLTs.

At Batavia Downs, the first track in New York owned by an off-track betting corporation, officials were given the green light to participate in the VLT program. The Genesee County board of supervisors approved 750 to 1,000 VLTs that are initially envisioned for the track, the oldest nighttime harness facility in the country. It closed for live racing in the late 1990s, but has been used for off-track wagering under Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.

Though the VLT plan was approved, the return of live racing to Batavia was stymied for now. Planned approval by state regulators for 2002 was deferred, officials said, because Western OTB has still failed to reach agreement for the year with the track's horsemen.

Meanwhile, Pataki has proposed \additional gambling expansions for the coming year. In addition to last year's historic bill, which permitted the VLTs, up to six Indian casinos, and entry by the state into a multi-state lottery game, Pataki wants to greatly expand Quick Draw, the state's keno-like computerized game that is played in 3,000 bars, restaurants, and other facilities.

He hopes more people will play Quick Draw if a 13-hours-per-day time restriction for operation of the game is dropped, and if more businesses off the game.