03/31/2006 12:00AM

Aqueduct slots delayed


The New York Racing Association has pushed back its estimate for opening a slot-machine casino at Aqueduct racetrack until at least April of 2007, eight months before the association's franchise to operate Aqueduct and two other tracks expires.

The construction project to build the casino within the existing Aqueduct grandstand has been subject to repeated delays since slot machines were legalized late in 2001. Charlie Hayward, NYRA's chief executive, said Friday that the association was hopeful that construction could begin by the end of April, provided NYRA obtains further approvals from state agencies.

On Thursday, a state oversight board approved a measure that makes NYRA's debts to the state subordinate to its debt to MGM Grand, the casino company that is NYRA's partner in the slot-machine project. MGM Grand is expected to loan NYRA as much as $190 million to complete the project. The oversight board had earlier approved the same measure, but recent estimated cost overruns for the project led the board to issue a new approval.

The cost of the casino was initially estimated at $140 million. That cost rose to $170 million last year, and, according to Hayward, the cost has risen to at least $181 million.

NYRA still needs the state attorney general and comptroller to approve the measure to make the association's debts subordinate to the MGM loan. The association also needs to remove two liens from its Aqueduct property. One of the liens is held by the state because NYRA failed to pay parimutuel taxes for a two-month period last year. The other is held by the federal Pension Guaranty Benefit Corporation because NYRA failed to fulfill its pension fund obligations last year.