by Paul Post
Aqueduct’s racino, which had been expected to open late next year, might not be operational until mid-2010, New York Racing Association President Charles Hayward said.
Three entities have submitted bids for the contract to operate 4,500 video lottery terminals, but Governor David Paterson has yet to make an announcement despite indications that a decision was forthcoming.
“In July, late 2009 looked realistic,” Hayward said. “Now I’d say 15 to 18 months. That’s just what I’ve been told by the bidders. I don’t know what’s slowing it down.”
The state, as part of NYRA’s new franchise agreement, advanced NYRA $30-million to operate until VLT revenue starts to flow.
“That’s not going to go far in this economy,” Racing Hall of Fame trainer LeRoy Jolley said. “That’s going to get used up pretty quickly.”
Greg Garofalo, a trainer and attorney for New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc., said there is a desperate need to complete a deal for a VLT operator.
“It’s seven years and waiting,” he said.
The state approved legislation allowing for racetrack racinos in 2001. Finger Lakes Race Track near Rochester and all New York harness tracks have gaming, but not Aqueduct.
Meanwhile, NYRA is moving ahead with capital project plans for all three of its tracks—Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course. NYRA has retained London-based Turnberry Consulting to make recommendations for each facility.
A study by Turnberry will cover everything from basic infrastructure such as plumbing and electrical to racetrack surfaces, backstretch housing, hospitality, and marketing.
“Unfortunately, one of the problems in the racing industry is that we have a lot of old facilities that have not been upgraded,” Hayward said. “They’re going to give us a preliminary report in October. We’ll use that as a frame to really develop and flesh out some of our capital plans going forward.”
Currently, NYRA workers are racing to install new drainage, sanitation, and stormwater systems at Saratoga’s barn areas, starting with the Oklahoma training track and its annex. About two dozen wash stands, where horses are bathed, are under construction and numerous storm water catch basins are being installed.
This phase of the project is costing about $1-million and is targeted for completion by November 1. Long-range, NYRA plans to make similar upgrades at all Saratoga stable areas.
In addition, some barns are being completely rehabilitated with new siding. Saratoga’s meet lasts only six weeks, but there are still 900 horses on the grounds. Training begins in mid-April and runs until early November.
“When you’re here six months a year there’s a lot of wear and tear on the barns and the tracks,” Jolley said. “There’s no weekends off, no holidays. It’s every single day.”