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Aqueduct video lottery machines await state approval

By Alex Davidson

Bill Nader, senior vice president for the racing association, said the second floor of the race track's grandstand was gutted to make room for the new gambling machines but a state delay in authorizing new construction has yet to be enacted.

“We are still waiting for some legislative approval,” Nader said. “We are hoping soon 'cause we are anxious to get started.”

Republican Gov. George Pataki and other state and city officials, trying to dig out of a billion-dollar deficit, announced in April that Aqueduct would become the first and largest facility in the city to operate video lottery terminals. But since then, construction at the race track, at 110-00 Rockaway Blvd. in Ozone Park, has proceeded intermittently for a variety of reasons, including the state's holding off on passing a law allowing for the 4,500 units to be installed.

At the time of the announcement, state officials said the video lottery terminals deal was worth $100 million.

“The legislation that they require has not moved through Albany yet,” said Betty Braton, chairwoman of Community Board 10. The board covers the communities of Ozone Park, South Ozone Park and Howard Beach.

A lull in building was also caused by a federal corruption probe into the activities of the New York Racing Association, specifically into allegations of whether employees at three of the agency's race tracks falsified business records. These charges put in jeopardy the video lottery terminals deal between the state agency and MGM, the private operator who is seeking to install the units.

Braton said she and others in the area are also waiting for an environmental impact statement to be approved by the state for any new construction. She said this would give borough residents a better idea of what is specifically planned for the race track site.

Nader said the environmental impact statement would likely be completed by the end of March but could not elaborate on contents of the report. Once Albany moves ahead with approving the installation of video lottery terminals at Aqueduct, it will take about seven months to complete the entire construction project, he said.

The New York Racing Association executive said the video lottery terminals will bring a new, expanded customer base to the race track that opened in 1894. He said the new units will spark a renewed interest in the facility and boost profits for Aqueduct.

“We have seen our business cannibalized over the last few years by off-track betting and the state lotteries,” Nader said. “Video gaming will help bring that (business) back.”

NYRA owns Aqueduct along with Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., home to the Belmont Stakes leg of the Triple Crown, and Saratoga Race Course.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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