Aqueduct VLT Contract Gets Comptroller’s OK
by Tom Precious
|Aqueduct Race Track
Photo: Adam Coglianese
Nine years after first being approved, the last major hurdle for the Aqueduct video lottery terminal casino project was cleared Sept. 13 when the state’s chief fiscal watchdog gave his approval for the project.
“This is one of the most important vendor contracts New York has ever signed,’’ said state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, whose office completed its fiscal review of the contract between the state and Genting New York, a Malaysian-based casino company.
Genting was tapped earlier this summer by Gov. David Paterson and legislative leaders after other bidding groups either dropped out or were rejected by the state. From here, the state Lottery Division, which is running the racetrack casino program in New York, will deliver the final contract to Genting, which then has 10 business days to deliver its promised $380 million upfront franchise fee payment to the state.
“We’re excited,’’ said Jennifer Givner, a lottery spokeswoman.
Givner said final environmental and building plan reviews must still be approved by the state Office of General Services; Givner expected those steps to be completed by mid-October. A Genting spokesman said the company expects to have the first 1,600 VLTs—out of the 4,500 approved for facility—operating between March and May of 2011.
“We are eager to immediately begin investing, creating jobs, sparking economic activity, and bringing New York a one-of-a-kind iconic, entertainment destination,” said K.T. Lim, chairman of Genting Malaysia Berhad, parent company of the New York casino group that will run the Aqueduct casino for at least the next 30 years.
The latest bidding process was the third under four separate gubernatorial administrations. Previous attempts fell apart for a variety of financial, political, or legal reasons. Aqueduct is the only VLT casino not yet operating among those racetracks first approved for the gambling halls back in 2001.
“It’s a 30-year license that carries the future of New York’s racing industry on its back,’’ DiNapoli said.
Genting came from nowhere earlier this year when Paterson re-started another bidding process for the Aqueduct project. Over the years, a who’s who of gambling, racing, real estate, and investment interests made runs after the casino award. A previous bidding process is still being investigated by federal prosecutors.
But the Genting award is, by far, the furthest along of any of the previous bidding attempts. In the latest round, the state dropped less-defined bidding procedures that created problems with earlier rounds, and adopted strict timetables and scoring systems to evaluate bids.
Now shell-like, the area where the VLTs will be located could see construction begin by mid-October, officials said.
Besides the upfront payment fee, the state is expecting as much as $400 million a year in annual revenue-sharing payments from the casino, which will be one of the few in the world with its own subway stop. Horsemen, breeders, and others in the racing industry have been holding their breath awaiting the flow of their own legally required revenue the casino will share with them.
And the New York Racing Association, which has faced a series of fiscal problems and threats of closure, is banking on the casino to ends its near-insolvency days and runs to the state capitol for bailouts.