06/04/2012 2:44PM

Aqueduct: Talks for convention center, expanded casino dropped


Talks between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the operator of a casino at Aqueduct on a proposed convention center at the track have been dropped, officials for Cuomo’s administration said over the past several days.

Howard Glaser, Cuomo’s director of state operations, said in a statement distributed by Cuomo’s office that the negotiations “have not produced a resolution that is satisfactory for the state and are made difficult by the lack of certainty about the future of casinos in New York.”

Gov. Cuomo announced in January that he had been meeting behind closed doors with the Aqueduct casono operator, Genting New York, on a proposal for Genting to build a massive convention center adjacent to the track. Genting has said that it was prepared to spend $4 billion on the convention center, in exchange for authorization to expand the games at the casino under a new revenue deal with the state.

The proposal had unnerved some racing officials who were concerned about the impact of the convention center on long-term plans for live racing at Aqueduct. Cuomo officials had not involved Aqueduct’s operator, the New York Racing Association, in any of the discussions, NYRA officials said.

In the statement, Glaser said that “a new world-class convention center is essential for the state’s economic growth,” citing the administration’s dissatisfaction with the Javits Center in midtown Manhattan. Closing the Javits Center would allow private real-estate companies to redevelop the land under the center, which sits on some of the most valuable property in the United States.

But Glaser said that the state had set aside the talks on the Aqueduct convention center so that the administration can focus on “planning and developing a comprehensive statewide approach” that “would also allow the state to develop a coordinated plan that addresses the related issues like NYRA’s role and relationship in the new gaming world.”

Since the talks began, the state legislature passed a bill providing for a constitutional amendment legalizing full-fledged, Vegas-style casinos. Under New York statute pertaining to constitutional amendments, the bill would have to again pass the legislature next year before being put on the ballot as a referendum.

Also since then, the Cuomo administration has pushed a plan on NYRA to dissolve NYRA’s current board and replace it with a board controlled by Cuomo and the state legislature for the next three years. The board will be able to dictate all of NYRA’s major decisions, including whether live racing should continue at Aqueduct or whether the association should support an effort to build a casino at the sprawling Belmont Park property in Long Island.

Glaser said that the Cuomo administration has been meeting with “other national and international gaming and development companies” over the past five months.

“There is no doubt from our discussions that a New York City metro area casino and mega-convention center franchise is the most desirable and attractive opportunity for the biggest developers in the world,” Glaser said.

Under existing statutes, NYRA, its horsemen, and the state’s breeding program receive approximately 14 percent of the Aqueduct casino’s net revenue, an amount that will total more than $50 million a year at current business levels. Should casinos be legalized, those statutes, which cover the operation of “video lottery terminals” – the euphemism for slot machines that are administered by the lottery – would be nullified, and new statutes on revenue distribution will be crafted by the legislature, according to officials.

Currently, nine racetracks operate casinos in New York, and five casinos are located on Native American reservations. The constitutional amendment does not address how many new casinos would be legalized.