Saratoga County

Hopes high for Aqueduct VLTs

Video lottery terminals at Aqueduct are expected to boost the racing industry statewide, said the

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Video lottery terminals at Aqueduct are expected to boost the racing industry statewide, said the president of Delaware North Companies Gaming & Entertainment.

Larger purses will help racing at Saratoga as well, said William Bissett, who heads up the Buffalo-based company. “It’s a very exciting time to be involved in this process.”

He was the keynote speaker Wednesday at the New York Gaming Summit, a two-day conference at the Saratoga Hilton.

Delaware North is one of three companies vying to run the VLTs in New York state, and currently runs Saratoga Gaming and Raceway and the Gideon Putnam Resort at Saratoga Spa State Park.

The VLTs are likely to raise “billions of dollars” for education with 4,500 machines at Aqueduct, Bissett said. “If it doesn’t work at Aqueduct, I don’t know where it’s ever going to work.”

SL Green Realty Corp. and Capital Play are the other two companies that have bid to run the state’s VLTs.

Even though the state Legislature has recessed for the summer, state leaders still plan to have an agreement for a VLT operator soon because they only need the consensus of the governor and leaders of the Senate and Assembly, said Morgan Hook, spokesman for Gov. David Paterson.

“I think it’s fair to say that it’s obviously taken longer than everybody hoped,” Hook said. He expects to see an agreement before summer’s end.

The Senate majority leader’s spokesman, Scott Reif, said the change in leadership from Sen. Joseph Bruno to Sen. Dean Skelos isn’t likely to delay getting an agreement.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson said he’s not sure whether VLTs alone can save horse racing. “Regardless of what the VLTs add to the financial stability of racing, we still need to fix the problem of racing in the state.”

The business model for off-track betting needs to be fixed, Johnson said. The mayor delivered the gaming summit’s welcoming address Tuesday and served on a panel Wednesday morning.

“Personally, I think it should be merged into one operation, not distinct operations,” he said of the OTB operation. That way, there would be one pot of money for off-track and on-track betting.

“We’re fortunate, being in Saratoga, to not see the problem that faces racing statewide,” Johnson said, noting that other tracks don’t see the high attendance, large handle and adequate purses that Saratoga has.

But the slowing economy has affected the gaming industry as well, Bissett said, noting that most gaming companies have not grown in revenue this year compared to last year.

“Gaming has become part of the fabric of the economy,” Bissett said.

Saratoga Gaming and Raceway has a $120 million annual impact on Saratoga County, Bissett said a 2007 study determined. It also provides tax money to the city and Saratoga County.

The city is expected to get a wire transfer today of $3.3 million from VLT revenue for hosting the racino in 2008. That’s the amount that officials have expected, but it’s $500,000 less than the city budgeted for VLT revenue this year, said Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins.

That’s because the state estimates in the summer how much revenue the machines will make for the rest of the year and cuts the city a check based on that number, Ivins said. And last year’s estimate was high, so the state overpaid the city.

“For budget purposes, it’s a nightmare, because you don’t know from one year to the next where you’re going to be,” Ivins said of the estimate.

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