Horse breeders want guv to make Aqueduct selection

By Howard Koplowitz

The executive director of a group representing the state’s horse breeders urged Gov. David Paterson and legislative leaders Sunday to quickly select a vendor for the video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Race Track, warning thousands of jobs may be in jeopardy.

Jeff Canizzo, executive director of the New York Thoroughbreeders, said Monday 35,000 people are employed in the state’s thoroughbred racing industry, which includes tracks at Aqueduct in Ozone Park and Belmont Park in Elmont, L.I., on the Nassau County-Queens border.

Hundreds of workers in the horseracing industry held a rally Sunday at Belmont Park urging the state to pick a winning VLT bidder soon.

“They need to act on selecting a VLT operator, which has been in the works since 2001,” Canizzo said of the state, cautioning that the New York Racing Association would have to cut jobs if a deal is not made soon.

The VLT contract, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, is “needed to keep NYRA racing and the breeding industry alive,” Canizzo said.

Under former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the state agreed to renew NYRA’s lease to operate Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga Race Course for another 25 years.

That contract said VLTs would be at Aqueduct this month, and if not, the state would still give NYRA and horse breeders money that was supposed to be generated from the machines.

But Canizzo said NYRA has not been paid.

New York City Off-Track Betting, which is overseen by the state, is also in financial dire straits and as of last fall owed NYRA $15 million and horse breeders $2 million, Canizzo said.

He said the state “needs to resolve New York City’s OTB problems in terms of their insolvency.”

Without the cash, Canizzo said breeders and other workers are deserting New York for other states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as Canada.

“People are leaving the state to go to other states where the government’s actually supporting the industry itself,” he said. “People are leaving as we speak. They’ve been waiting for nine years.”

Gov. David Paterson and legislative leaders initially awarded the VLT contract to Buffalo-based Delaware North in November 2007, but that deal collapsed five months later when the company could not come up with the $370 million upfront payment it promised the state.

A new round of bidding was started, leading to the controversial selection in February of Aqueduct Entertainment Group.

But that deal also fell through earlier this month after the state Lottery Division would not grant the consortium a gaming license.

The AEG deal was first scrutinized after one of its investors, influential southeast Queens minister the Rev. Floyd Flake, met with Paterson just three days after the deal was announced. Flake said he would be open to supporting state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for governor before he sat down with Paterson.

Flake and rap superstar Jay-Z severed their ties with AEG the day before the deal fell through.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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