New York politicians agree on Aqueduct slots

ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. David Paterson and the Senate's Republican majority said Thursday they're ready to put lucrative video slot machines at Aqueduct racetrack. The project promises to bring more than 1,000 jobs to Queens and $370 million up front to the state as it faces deepening deficits.

But just hours after announcing the agreement in separate statements, Paterson and the Republican majority couldn't agree on whether the deal is the same one the GOP Senate rejected almost two weeks ago, before the economic development issue became a political issue.

The Aqueduct plan includes a 328,000-square foot gaming and entertainment facility for the 4,500 video slot machines, a hotel with as many as 500 rooms, a spa, a 60,000-square foot conference center, 3,000-seat "event center," and up to 30,000 square feet of retail space, according to Delaware North Cos. of Buffalo, the winning bidder. The facility is scheduled to be complete in 12 to 14 months, according to the company.

Paterson said the state will have a $2 billion deficit this fiscal year. The video slot machines will operate through the state Lottery Division and provide the state at least $10.3 billion earmarked for education over 30 years, according to the agreement.

"It will revitalize the neighborhood surrounding the racetrack and bring new energy to the community," said Sen. Serphin Maltese, a Queens Republican whose district includes Aqueduct.

The project has been in the works since the Legislature looked for ways to boost revenue after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Two weeks ago, Paterson and the Assembly's Democratic majority chose Delaware North. But the Senate Republicans refused to go along, saying the company's plans for improvements and jobs near the track in Queens were lacking.

Maltese and Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos insisted on hearing details of spin-off commerce to help the community before they would support Delaware North. State officials and the competitors had warned that the Republicans couldn't seek changes in the company's plan because that could have violated rules designed to make competitive bidding fair.

After the proposal was altered to include community input and the economic development that includes a hotel and commercial space, the Republicans agreed.

"It's not the same proposal. We significantly adjusted and changed it," said John McArdle, spokesman for the Senate majority.

"Anyone can sue," McArdle said. He said no contract or legal agreement has yet been signed, but the Republican majority is now on board.

"The proposal submitted today is exactly the same as it was 13 days ago," said Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook.