Aqueduct Raceway casino deal is too much of a gamble for New York
Monday, October 20th 2008, 4:00 AM
New Yorkers have heard a lot of nice-sounding talk out of Albany about transforming down-at-the-heels Aqueduct Raceway into a glitzy resort.
In return for accepting 4,500 video slot machines at the Queens site, the pitch went, the city also would gain a hotel, concert venue, retail shops or other attractions on a grossly underutilized piece of real estate.
But the deal galloping toward the finish line in Albany looks too lopsided for comfort, heavy on Vegas-style gambling, with all its attendant problems, and light on everything else.
The proposal preferred by Gov. Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, from a firm called Delaware North, guarantees construction of only one thing: a racino full of one-armed bandits hooked into the state lottery, similar to those operating at Yonkers and other tracks.
It's also offering $370 million upfront to the state - $120 million more than the next highest bidder.
But as for the hotel and other goodies, they'd be postponed to a phase two. Exactly what would be built and when is left iffy, dependent on how much money the slots brought in.
And there are grounds for doubt about Delaware North's commitment to further development, given that it only recently recruited a real estate partner and didn't release sketches until last weekend - after getting the nod from Paterson and Silver.
The other bidders have fleshed out their visions for Aqueduct a bit more thoroughly. But how their proposals line up against Delaware North's remains a secret, known only to Capitol insiders operating in typical secrecy.
It may turn out Delaware North - a New York-based company that successfully operates three other racinos - is the best bet for Aqueduct. That $370 million certainly would help plug holes in the state budget.
But given the high stakes for Ozone Park and the rest of the city to have a subway-accessible casino, it was reasonable for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to demand more details before giving his okay. This gamble with the future of a city neighborhood needs a full public airing before anyone signs on the dotted line.