2008-10-15 / Political Page

Albany Political Brawl Over Aqueduct Casino Development

BY JOHN TOSCANO

The long delayed selection of a company to operate a proposed video slot casino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park remains deadlocked as Governor David Paterson and state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos disagree about a developer picked by the governor.

Although Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has joined the governor in his selection of Delaware North to run the potentially lucrative operation, Skelos feels Delaware North's proposal "does not include an economic development proposal that would be a greater benefit in the long run".

Skelos noted, "[State] Senator Serf Maltese, who represents Aqueduct, has been working directly with Community Board 10, local civic groups and other elected officials to ensure that the vendor selected has a plan to develop Aqueduct into a true destination venue, which would create more jobs and generate more revenue for education in the long run."

Skelos, from Rockville Center, who recently succeeded Joseph Bruno as the GOP senate leader, concluded: "Before agreeing to any final proposal, we must be assured that the bid meets the basic criteria we established when we authorized this effort. That included a world class racino along with an economic development proposal that would generate additional revenue for education first and foremost, and for the local communities and the state."

Paterson, Skelos and Silver must all agree on any choices of a developer to run the Aqueduct enterprise.

Maltese, a Republican from Middle Village, and Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer, a Democrat who represents Ozone Park, have been working together with the community to settle on a developer to run the 4,500-video-slot-machine operation, which would operate 16 hours day.

Calls to Pheffer for comment were not returned.

In a prepared statement, Maltese said he had "worked closely" with Pheffer and Betty Braton, Donna Gilmartin and the members of Community Board 10 and other civic and community leaders in a united front "to ensure that whichever franchise is selected, it be the most beneficial for the communities surrounding Aqueduct".

Maltese stated, "Those who live and work near Aqueduct have been deeply concerned about the future of the racetrack and we have worked hard to ensure that they have a significant say in the decision making process. That being said, Delaware North has all along been nearly everyone's third choice."

Paterson has made no official statement that he was ready to select Delaware North for the Aqueduct development, but Monday's New York Post reported that he had selected the Buffalo company.

The story also said that the selection had come as the governor and Skelos quarreled over an agreement they had that the Democratic governor would not get involved in any senate election campaigns.

Paterson's choice of Delaware North angered Skelos, the story said, because it could hurt Maltese in his election battle with City Councilmember Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D- Howard Beach).

Meanwhile, according to a published report, Delaware North's proposal had the look of a Las Vegas style casino. Besides making an up front payment of $370 million to the state according to the report, Delaware North and a firm it hired, The Peebles Corp., would build the racino at a cost of $250 million.

In a later phase, a hotel, a conference center and possibly a regional shopping center would be built within two years. Several high-scale restaurants would be included in the development as well as a food buffet patterned after Las Vegas that could seat 600 people. It would also include a large food court, several bars and other entertainment facilities.

All of these amenities combined would meet the requirements that would make the entire development a "destination venue", a place that would attract casino customers who would also patronize the other attractions.

The slot parlor is expected to draw 20,000 people a day and generate $1 million a day in revenue for the state, much of it earmarked for education. The Aqueduct casino was first talked about some seven years ago. Two other companies are bidding for the contract.

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