by Paul Post
Governor David Paterson’s office said Thursday that an Aqueduct Racetrack gaming operator should be named within two weeks, but Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno says it might be sooner, perhaps next week.
“Working with the governor and the Assembly, we expect to be able to make a selection by Tuesday, May 6,” said Scott Reif, a spokesman for Bruno, New York’s highest-ranking Republican whose district includes Saratoga Race Course.
Approval of both state leaders along with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, is required.
Three groups made presentations to staff members for Paterson, Bruno, and Silver during closed-door sessions on Wednesday, each group vying for a 30-year franchise agreement to operate a 4,500-machine video lottery terminal facility at Aqueduct.
The facility could generate anywhere from $450-million to more than $650-million per year, depending on average daily earnings. Construction is expected to take 12 to 14 months, meaning the center could open in the fall of 2009.
The state’s decision will be based on a variety of factors such as upfront payments to the state and each group’s projected return over the life of the 30-year contract.
“It’s not as though the state has a checklist,” said Morgan Hook, a Paterson spokesman. “They’re looking at the entire bid. Whatever they feel is best for the state, that’s the one they’re going to choose.”
The bidders are SL Green Realty Trust and Hard Rock Entertainment; Capital Play Inc. and partners Mohegan Sun casino of Connecticut, Extell Development and Plainfield Asset Management; and Delaware North Companies and Saratoga Harness Racing Inc.
The groups have offered upfront payments to the state of $400 million, $370 million and $100 million, respectively. The first two include plans for large scale hotel-retail-entertainment complexes at Aqueduct.
Capital Play’s $1.2-billion proposal calls for a 750-room hotel and 880,000-square-foot retail-entertainment center. SL Green and Hard Rock want to build an upscale Hard Rock Aqueduct hotel comparable to its casino resorts elsewhere around the world.
Delaware North/Saratoga Harness, in contrast, say their main focus is getting the VLT center open as quickly as possible, to generate money for the state and racing industry. Then they will evaluate the need for other development, based on customer demand, Delaware North President William Bissett said.
He said that he would not be opposed to letting different groups do the hotel-entertainment-retail development.
The state’s decision is important to New York Racing Association, which runs Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course, because its new 25-year franchise cannot take effect until a VLT operator is named. NYRA still has several legal issues to deal with before it can emerge from bankruptcy, and the gaming operator’s input is required on each matter. Until the state names a gaming operator and NYRA’s legal issues are resolved, NYRA will have to continue operating with a temporary extension.
Its current extension expires on July 13.