NYRA Chairman Backs VLTs at Aqueduct; Wants Harness Included

The chairman of the New York Racing Association said Saturday he would welcome video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Raceway, but insists the state's ailing Standardbred tracks should also be included in any VLT proposal now being eyed by state officials.

"We would have to somehow satisfy the harness tracks because they've been the ones on the forefront of this. I can't imagine leaving them out of this,'' said NYRA chairman Barry Schwartz. "They have an industry desperately in need of money. Something would have to be done to make them a part of it.''

Earlier this week, New York Governor George Pataki floated a plan in closed door talks with legislative leaders to permit VLTs exclusively at Aqueduct on an experimental basis. Harness industry insiders were immediately outraged, insisting it was the harness tracks most in need of the devices to keep several tracks from shuttering. One harness lobbyist referred to NYRA as a
"Johnny-come-lately,'' a reference to its board of trustees in August backing VLTs - months after all the other equine industry groups had begun actively promoting the devices as a way to boost purses.

Sources say Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, then floated a plan to also include Yonkers Raceway in the VLT package. And Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, an upstate Republican who represents Saratoga, for the first time suggested the time may be right to introduce VLTs in New York.

But Schwartz said he understands why harness industry officials would be upset. Schwartz said he talked with both Bruno and Silver after word surfaced this week of the Aqueduct-only VLT plan. He said he told the legislative leaders that if the Aqueduct-only proposal is approved, "we'd have to put some percentage of the money generated devoted to (harness tracks). They'd have to get something out of it.''

Schwartz also said it wasn't NYRA that proposed an Aqueduct-only VLT measure, and that he still prefers to include the devices at Belmont. The NYRA trustees, however, said they would not support the devices being located at Saratoga. He said he met with Pataki two weeks ago, but that the issue of VLTs was not brought up.

"I'm not aggressively in there battling'' for VLTs, Schwartz said.