It’s been the longest horserace in history – but it appears that the competition for the franchise to build a Racino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park is inching toward the finish line.
On Wednesday, September 30 at a Business Council event in upstate Rochester, Governor David Paterson revealed that he and the legislative leaders asked the state’s Lottery Commission and Racing and Wagering Board to, “Look at some of the proposals which may have structural defects. It may eliminate [a number of the] six applicants that are trying to get that contract and after that, we will choose from who’s left. That could happen as soon as tomorrow [October 1].”
However, as has become the norm in a process that began during the Pataki administration, tomorrow came and went without a resolution or any movement at all.
Morgan Hook, a spokesperson for the Governor, told The Courier, “The Lottery and Racing and Wagering Board have been involved in the review process throughout.” When asked if a decision could be made soon, he replied “The odds are not good.”
As of Sunday, October 4, “No bidders have been removed from consideration. There is no timeframe for a selection or announcement, but as the Governor indicated last week, he expects an agreement soon.”
However, Aqueduct Entertainment Group’s bid, with a reported $251 million in “front money,” was based on the state upping the number of video VLTs to 7,650 from the current 4,500. This would require new legislation.
The group includes Turner Construction, casino operator Navegante Group, Reverend Floyd Flake’s Empowerment Development Corp. and Douglaston-based Levine Builders.
The Governor’s office has not released any details on the bids or their terms and conditions.
Of the four remaining bidders, SL Green/Hard Rock Café; the Aqueduct Casino Group; casino magnate Steve Wynn; Penn National and Aqueduct Gaming, comparisons are difficult.
Real estate giant SL Green told The Courier they offered $275 million up front and an opening-day guarantee, according to spokesperson Rick Matthews. “We’re using plans that had already been developed and approved,” during the aborted 2005 Racino plan between MGM Mirage and the New York Racing Association (NYRA).
“We are using the same architect. We have agreement with the building trades. If we don’t have this thing up and running in eight months, we have a ‘self-imposed penalty fee’ of up to $25 million – that’s how confident we are,” Matthews said.
Aqueduct Casino Group, including MGM in partnership with mega-developer R. Donohue Peebles and others, has declined to comment on its bid, honoring an earlier request from the Governor.
Peebles’ group is promising significant benefit to the community, including the involvement of the Peebles Entrepreneurship Academy for local youth, according to spokesperson Kendall Pryles.
Wynn reportedly entered the fray late with a $150 million bid and doubled it to $300 million shortly afterwards.
Penn National spokesperson Christopher McErlean told The Courier, “Our best and final offer was made in August – $250 million when we sign the MOU [memorandum of understanding]; we will have 1,000 to 2,000 VLTs up and running within eight months in a space inside the grandstand that will become part of the final operation. The balance of the 4,500 machines will be operational within a year after that.”
Aqueduct Gaming reportedly offered the state a $300 million fee, but only $100 million upfront payment. The group includes Delaware North, the company that had won the deal last year and then stumbled at the finish line, unable to make its upfront payment in April.
Still, Paterson’s office is holding out hope.
“At this point, questions or concerns raised by the Governor or leaders are taken up on a case-by-case basis,” Hook said. “I think it’s safe to assume that any concerns or questions the Governor had at the end of last week will be answered early this week.”