by Paul Post
New York State’s new Senate majority leader has joined Governor David Paterson in supporting the introduction of video lottery terminals at Belmont Park.
Paterson announced such plans last month as a way for the cash-strapped state to help close a projected budget deficit of more than $15-billion.
Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) took over as majority leader on Thursday, giving Democrats control of the state’s executive and legislative branches for the first time in more than 40 years. Democrats gained control of the Senate in November’s elections.
“The establishment of video lottery terminals at Belmont, with the proper oversight, avenues for economic development, and local representation, would be a boon to the state and local economies,” said Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Smith. “Senator Smith looks forward to working closely with Senator Craig Johnson (D-Queens) throughout the process to reach a determination that meets the needs of local residents and the state.”
Belmont, which straddles the Queens-Nassau County line, is in Johnson’s district.
The gaming proposal, however, requires approval from each of the state’s top three leaders. Until now, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has adamantly opposed the idea, arguing that the New York market cannot support two VLT facilities. Belmont is about eight miles from Aqueduct, where construction on a new VLT center is expected to begin this spring.
In October, the state selected Buffalo-based Delaware North Companies to run that facility with 4,500 VLTs. However, the state and Delaware North have not signed a memorandum of understanding yet, but Paterson spokeman Morgan Hook said the memorandum should be signed in the early weeks of 2009.
Delaware North has pledged to give the state an up-front $370-million payment for rights to Aqueduct’s gaming contract. It is believed that the state is seeking a similar amount from whoever runs Belmont’s VLTs.