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State turns to gambling at Aqueduct for revenue

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Big changes are likely to start taking place at Aqueduct Race Track in Ozone Park as the state Legislature and Gov. George Pataki look to enhance revenue sources to help close the state's billion-dollar budget gap.

In addition to the previously announced 4,500 video lottery terminals, otherwise known as slot machines, an Aqueduct official said the facility would probably double the number of hours it is open and start offering late-night, year-round race simulcasts. These races, along with the terminals, would provide additional revenue streams to the state under current gambling laws, the official said.

"This facility would be open just about every day of the year except for Easter and Christmas," said Bill Nader, senior vice president of the New York Racing Association. "Right now we offer about 140 days of live racing per year."

The association, a private, non-profit state corporation, owns Aqueduct along with Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., the home to the Belmont Stakes leg of the Triple Crown, and Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga, N.Y. It is located at 110-00 Rockaway Blvd.

Nader said the track now only offers simulcasts during its off-season, from mid-May to late October. He said the track would expand its facilities to make room for the new simulcasts and video terminals by constructing a $100 million second floor on the clubhouse and grandstand.

The changes at Aqueduct are being considered in legislation to be included in the new state budget for fiscal year 2004 beginning in July.

Larry Love, legislative assistant to state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway), whose district includes the race track, told the Community Board 10 meeting last Thursday that the expansion at Aqueduct was likely to occur regardless of the final budget legislation. He said the state is looking for ways to increase revenue and wants to expand Aqueduct to take in more money for the state.

"It's coming," Love said about the race track that could possibly stay open until 2 a.m., two hours later than its current closing time. "We just want to make sure it is not an adverse part to our community."

Love said Pheffer and state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) have planned an as yet unscheduled meeting in the next two weeks with elected officials, NYRA and community members to discuss all proposed changes. He said the meeting would also involve MGM Mirage, the company installing and operating the video terminals.

Although the state has not finalized plans for Aqueduct, Nader said NYRA is ready to get going with expansion at the facility. He said he hopes to make any necessary changes as soon as possible because the state will automatically relicense the facility to operate through 2013 if NYRA completes any new construction at Aqueduct by 2004.

"Once the approval process comes down, we'll move," he said. "We're positioned to move forward as quickly as we can. The revenue that this could generate, especially for education, is a phenomenal amount of money."

Donna Gilmartin, who heads Community Board 10's committee on Aqueduct, said during the meeting board members were willing to work with NYRA and MGM Mirage to make the necessary changes at the race track. She said the community wants the track to remain open but also was seeking assurances that any alterations at the facility do not increase crime or traffic.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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