Lawmakers: Final Touches Put on VLT Legislation

Officials in New York are closing in on a historic gambling package that would give some racetracks video lottery terminals, permit up to six Indian-owned casinos in western New York and the Catskill Mountains, and expand the
state's lottery offerings.

Passage could come as early as Wednesday, lawmakers say.

Negotiators this were putting the final touches on the VLT package, but as of Tuesday night it would permit the devices at the Aqueduct and Finger Lakes Thoroughbred tracks, and Monticello Raceway, Vernon Downs, and Yonkers Raceway, all Standardbred tracks. Three other upstate harness tracks--Saratoga Equine Sports Center, Batavia Downs, and Buffalo Raceway--could install VLTs with approval from county legislators.

The devices would not be permitted at the New York Racing Association's Saratoga and Belmont Park. NYRA has opposed VLTs at Saratoga, and officials said Belmont was excluded as a way to appease New York City lawmakers already concerned about one track--Aqueduct--Queens being given the machines.

The sides were still discussing how the proceeds would be split between the
state--it would get the vast share of the revenues--racetracks, purses, and breeding funds. But sources say the state would keep at least 75% of the revenues, and likely far more than that under a complex sliding scale to be determined in the future. That would leave the tracks to share about half of the remainder with purses and breeding funds.

The legislation would be silent on how many devices each track can offer; that will be worked out in the coming months with the state Lottery Division, which will be running the program.

By law, the lottery must dedicate its revenues to education spending. Since the state lottery, then, can't fund programs like racetrack purses, negotiators were looking to treat the racetracks like other lottery vendors in the state; in turn, the tracks would put money into purses and breeders' funds.

State sources say the devices, which would be permitted on a pilot-type basis that sunsets are three years, could be turned on up to 12 hours a day, or 14 hours on weekends. It is unclear when the first VLTs could be installed, though lottery officials have told sources it could take up to one year to get the system in place.

Legislative leaders emerging from a meeting with Gov. George Pataki said only minor details were still being worked out. "We're going to do some sort of VLT (bill),'' said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said the entire gambling package would be worth at least $1 billion a year in revenues for the state's budget, an enticing sum at a time when state leaders are frantic to fill a deepening hole created by the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks and the ensuing tailspin of the state's economy.