New York Gambling Measure Under Consideration

Negotiators are closing in on a deal that could lead to legislation vastly expanding gambling in New York, including authorization for some racetracks to offer video lottery terminals.

The proposal, which had some supporters before the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, has gained momentum as state government leaders frantically search for ways to raise revenues in the face of a potential $6-billion state budget deficit over the next 18 months.

Sources said the plan includes legislative approval of a deal struck last summer by Gov. George Pataki with Seneca Indian leaders for three casinos in western New York, authorization for up to three casinos in the Catskill Mountains, entry by New York into the multi-state lottery game known as Powerball, and the racetrack VLT provision.

The entire package, which optimists say could come up for approval the week of Oct. 21, hinges on several unrelated measures involving the state budget and some policy issues. If those come together, the gambling package has its best chance ever of passage, lawmakers and industry lobbyists said.

On the table is an industry-backed plan to permit placement of VLTs at many of the state's racetracks, though the proposal has advanced from one quietly made a couple months ago by Pataki to permit the devices only on a trial basis at Aqueduct. New York Racing Association chairman Barry Schwartz, according to sources, helped broker plans to expand the proposal to include Standardbred tracks.

Sources said the plan under consideration, as of press time, includes VLTs at Aqueduct, Yonkers Raceway, Vernon Downs, and possibly either Monticello Raceway or Finger Lakes. The plan, however, has ruffled the feathers of tracks not on the short list of possible sites.