VLT Legislation Picks Up Steam in New York

Attempts to bring video lottery terminals to New York racetracks moved a step ahead with the introduction of legislation in the state Senate to allow the controversial gambling devices.

The legislation, sponsored by six members of the Republican Senate majority, comes a couple months after a similar bill was introduced by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the state Assembly. Whether anything comes of the proposals will be known in the coming months, but advocates said the new Senate bill represents a growing recognition -- at least among lawmakers who represent racetracks -- that VLTs can bolster the racing industry.

The two bills are different. The Assembly bill would permit VLTs at tracks on a three-year trial basis. The Senate bill bans the devices at "non-profit racing associations," which defines the New York Racing Association, and also at tracks not licensed before 1994. That provision would bar any attempt by Frank Stronach's Magna Entertainment to operate the devices if the company opens a new racetrack in the state as had been planned.

The two bills agree that VLT operations would be limited to days when tracks are open for racing. The bills also set a host of specific criteria for how VLTs would work in New York -- they would ban bets over $2 and steer revenue to special state funds.

"Our racetracks need a new, unique form of wagering in order to increase attendance and preserve their presence in our communities," said a memo that accompanied the Assembly legislation.

The introduction of the Senate bill last week came several days after a cross-spectrum of racing industry officials got together to fund a study on VLTs.

Industry representatives, though cautious, say a host of factors, including a big political push to get more funding for education, could make VLTs and the revenues they would generate a lure this year for lawmakers.

"There's more interest (at the capitol) than there has been in five years," said Christian Riegle, general manager at Finger Lakes Racetrack and one of the board members of the new industry group called the "Coalition for the Preservation and Promotion of Horse Racing and Breeding in New York State."

Riegle said the industry group hasn't endorsed either VLT bill, and soon may offer its own version. "There is honest enthusiasm for VLTs," he said. "The key now for us is to get the industry together and present one proposal. If that gets done, there is a significant chance for success."