Area leaders demand VLT firm pick

Elected officials and members of Community Board 10 are growing frustrated over Gov. David Paterson’s inability to name the winner of the bid to construct VLTs at Aqueduct Race Track. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Howard Koplowitz

Frustration is mounting by the day over Gov. David Paterson’s indecision on picking a firm to construct and operate video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Race Track.

“I’m very upset at the governor. I’m very angry at the governor,” state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach) told Community Board 10 last week at a meeting. “Gov. Paterson, more or less, stopped the wheel. The governor hasn’t said, ‘Let’s talk. Let’s make a decision.’”

Five firms — Delaware North, the Peebles Corp., Aqueduct Entertainment Group, Penn National Gaming and SL Green — are in the running for the contract to operate as many as 5,000 VLTs, devices similar to slot machines.

Pheffer said she does not want Buffalo-based Delaware North to win the contract “because they failed us before,” referring to the $370 million upfront payment it promised the state when it was awarded the contract in October 2008. Delaware North was unable to come up with those funds and withdrew its proposal.

The assemblywoman also said she was “not fond of Penn National” because its proposal was “not too exciting” and “too boxy.”

She said she favored either SL Green or Aqueduct Entertainment Group because both bidders have been “responsive to the community.”

Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton agreed with Pheffer’s characterization of Paterson’s administration when it comes to Aqueduct.

“The governor’s people, it’s total silence on their end,” she said. “It’s ridiculous at their end of the game. It’s time for the governor to make a decision. The indecision is ridiculous.”

CB 10 Aqueduct Committee Chairwoman Donna Gilmartin said she feels like the community is “being held hostage.”

“Anything [Paterson is] doing to manipulate the situation is not good for this community,” she said.

“It seems the governor doesn’t want to make an enemy” by making the decision, Pheffer said. “We are going to pressure him” by writing e-mails and making phone calls to Paterson’s office, she said.

Pheffer noted that the New York Racing Association, which runs Aqueduct, has already budgeted money coming in from the VLTs and will be bankrupt in the summer if Paterson does not make a decision on the VLTs.

The assemblywoman also expressed her disappointment over Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn’s withdrawing his bid on the VLTs after Paterson mandated a minimum $200 million upfront payment.

“You can’t keep changing” the parameters for the VLT contract, Pheffer said. “How embarassing … a man, a multimillionaire says he doesn’t want to invest in New York City.”

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who also attended the CB 10 meeting, shared Pheffer’s frustration over the process.

“I can only hope that the deal on Aqueduct is made tomorrow,” he said, noting that the $200 million upfront payment has been included in the governor’s deficit reduction plan.

“Now we run the risk of that $200 million not being there for this fiscal year,” the senator said.

He noted that if the decision on the VLTs had been made in August or September, it would have provided the community with jobs.

“Our area depends a lot on what happens at Aqueduct,” he said. “There’s been little information coming from the governor’s office.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

More from Around New York