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Slot machines installation suspended pending probe

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The installation of 4,500 video slot machines at Aqueduct Race Track in Ozone Park was put on hold last Thursday after private investors got cold feet about a federal criminal probe examining employee activities at all three state-owned horse racing facilities, a spokesman for the state attorney general said.

Paul Larrabee, speaking for Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, said MGM/Mirage decided to suspend construction of a new level that would house the slot machines because of a pending probe by the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York. The investigation follows a report by Spitzer's office in June detailing the convictions of New York Racing Association employees who were charged with stealing and committing tax fraud.

NYRA is a private, non-profit state corporation that 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. Aqueduct is located at 110-00 Rockaway Blvd.

"I believe each of the tracks has been subject to the investigation," Larrabee said of Spitzer's investigation. "It is based on the activities of New York Racing Association employees who work at all three tracks."

Officials from NYRA did not return repeated phone calls for comment.

Even though details of the federal probe have yet to be announced, MGM/Mirage still decided to put off its deal with the not-for-profit, state-run racing association because MGM/Mirage was not sure what the investigation could reveal, Larrabee said.

There also have been rumors that NYRA is $50 million in debt, which is the subject of an unreleased audit by state Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

Larrabee said Spitzer's investigation into the New York Racing Association remains open and could potentially net further convictions. He said the attorney general continues to have concerns about how the state-owned association operates.

"Attorney General Spitzer believes there are major financial and management problems at the New York Racing Association," Larrabee said. "They warrant significant attention."

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

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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