Industry Proposals Put on Hold in New York

Sweeping proposals for new gambling ventures in New York have moved far off the table in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

In the days before the attack, talks were heating up between Gov. George Pataki and legislative leaders over a plan to permit video lottery terminals at one or more racetracks in the state as part of an experimental program that would also include entry of New York in the multi-state Powerball lottery system.

In addition, negotiations were said to be proceeding on another proposal to permit up to six Indian-owned casinos in the state -- three in the Buffalo and Niagara Falls region, and three in the Catskill Mountains area.

"The focus is, and rightfully so, on New York City and the terrorist attack and what the nation's response will be," said assemblyman Alexander Gromack, who chairs the Assembly racing committee. "I think people are kind of in a holding pattern."

"How can you concentrate on racetracks when you've got 7,000 people missing?" said Senate Racing Committee chairman William Larkin.

Also on hold are any discussions dealing with the proposed sale of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. to a group led by Magna Entertainment. Some have speculated that the sale, which was in deep trouble before the attack because of the New York Racing Association's influence in the legislature, could become an issue again because New York City may need revenue in the wake of the attack.

In addition, the surging popularity of New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani would lend tremendous lobbying power to Magna's efforts if the mayor decides to publicly push the sale before he leaves office at the end of December.

Gromack and Larkin dismissed any talk of NYCOTB. "My feeling is I'd tend to doubt it is discussed anymore in his term," Gromack said, while Larkin said the issue will become a matter for the next mayor.

The legislature is expected to return often over the next several months in a series of special sessions to cope with responses to the New York City rebuilding efforts. The two lawmakers agreed that one or more of the pending racing issues are likely to come up as the state grapples with ways to raise money, especially with tax receipts expected to decrease.

Larkin suggested the most certain of all the gambling options is Powerball, mostly because it will provide the quickest boost of revenues to the state. VLTs and casinos, he said, will do nothing to help the state in the current fiscal year.