The $170 million gaming facility - which will be located in the racetrack's grandstands and clubhouse - is expected to be completed sometime in summer 2006, New York Racing Association Senior Vice President Bill Nader said."The contract is finalized and signed," Nader said, estimating the annual revenues for educational purposes to be $450 million. "It's very significant money. It's just a matter of getting the hammer swinging. We're very anxious to get this in operation and start making money for the state."Nader and MGM Mirage said the project will likely require further ongoing approvals from the New York Lottery.The plan to install the video lottery terminals - first announced by Gov. George Pataki in April 2003 - had been on hold because of long-running legal challenges in the state courts.The New York State Court of Appeals last month upheld a gaming law signed by Pataki that revised the distribution regulations of video lottery terminals intake to allow revenues to be used for increasing purses at the race tracks.The May 4 ruling overturned a 2003 decision from the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court that determined the formula for sharing revenue from the terminals was unconstitutional because not all monies were designated for educational purposes.Nader said the court rulings and recently passed state legislation that holds any operator of Aqueduct Racetrack responsible for the $170 million terminal loan assured that MGM Mirage would continue its involvement.The loan provision was deemed necessary since the New York Racing Association's contract with the state to operate Aqueduct expires in 2007, Nader said. The state Court of Appeals also upheld a 2004 Appellate decision that said video lottery terminals are not slot machines, which are banned outside casinos by state law, but rather represented a "valid, state-operated lottery."State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) disagreed. Padavan, a strong opponent of video lottery terminals, said he feared the facility would have negative consequences for the community by increasing the number of compulsive gamblers."The state should not be in the business of encouraging people to lose their money," Padavan said. "The gambling venues have gotten out of hand, and this will be one more. It's outrageous no matter how you look at it. Thousands of machines going all day long, attracting people there to lose more money."In 2001, Padavan challenged a law the state Legislature passed shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks which allowed the state to set up video lottery terminals at eight racetracks, including Aqueduct.The state Constitution bars gambling, but allows certain exceptions where gambling proceeds go to education. Padavan argued the video lottery terminals were slot machines, and thus illegal.Nader said the video lottery terminals are necessary to expand the customer base at the racetrack at 110-00 Rockaway Blvd., a location he said would draw visitors from Manhattan and travelers from JFK Airport."It complements our core business, which is thoroughbred racing," Nader said. "It will be conducted in an environment that has been a gaming-environment for many, many years and hopefully enhance our racing product by enabling us to offer better prize money for horse owners."Betty Braton, chairwoman of Queens Community Board 10, which covers Ozone Park, said she hoped the project will ease the community's concerns about the future of horse racing and Aqueduct Racetrack."MGM and NYRA said they will be ready to come before the community with some more detailed information (about the plan) sometime in the fall," Braton said. "We're looking forward to that. Hopefully, this will get itself up and running."Braton said construction that had already begun on the project has stalled in recent months and must be put up for rebid. Along with the myriad legal challenges, the project was slowed by a 2004 federal probe into tax evasion among employees at Aqueduct.
©2005 Community News Group
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