01/16/2002 12:00AM

Big A seeking 2,500 VLT's


NEW YORK - The New York Racing Association has estimated that it could accommodate 2,500 video lottery terminals at Aqueduct. The figure is contained in a business plan NYRA will submit to state lottery officials on Friday, association officials said Wednesday.

The 2,500-machine allotment was one of the few details NYRA officials would discuss about the business plan in advance of the Friday submission deadline. The New York State Lottery has asked racetracks to submit the business plans to assist the lottery in its planning.

"That's the number we're going with," said Barry Schwartz, NYRA's chairman. "We looked at the square footage and how much we thought we could accommodate, and that's what we think would be best."

Under a bill adopted last October, VLT's were authorized for five New York racetracks - Aqueduct, Finger Lakes, Monticello Raceway, Yonkers, and Vernon Downs. State officials expect that the earliest the terminals could be operational would be November of this year - if the machines survive the expected constitutional challenges.

The legislation would also allow VLT's at three other harness tracks - Saratoga Raceway, Batavia Downs, and Buffalo Raceway - if approved by local officials. Machines were prohibited, however, at either Belmont Park or Saratoga Race Course, at the urging of NYRA, which owns the tracks.

For the business plans, the lottery asked the five racetracks to prepare projections for construction costs, revenues, expenses, and financing costs, according to Chris Riegle, the president of Finger Lakes.

"Our job is to show them what we could do here, and I'm trying my best to do that," Riegle said. "We're committed to making it work."

Riegle said the lottery told Finger Lakes to base its projections on having 1,000 machines at the track.

Officials at Finger Lakes and NYRA have been critical of the state lottery in the past, saying that the state is asking the racetracks to pay for a variety of construction and operational costs that are not the responsibility of tracks in other states with VLT's. Both Riegle and Schwartz declined to address those issues before submitting the business plans.

Last year at Delaware Park, 2,000 VLT's generated net proceeds of $263.1 million, according to the Delaware lottery.

Many gambling analysts say they believe a VLT operation at a New York track would have numbers comparable with Delaware's, meaning Aqueduct's 2,500 machines would likely produce upward of $330 million a year for the state, racetrack, and horsemen.

That potential has drawn the attention of lawmakers in Saratoga Springs, where the county board will vote on Feb. 13 on an ordinance that would allow Saratoga Raceway, a harness track, to operate VLT's. Saratoga Raceway has struggled over the past decade to make ends meet.

In an indication that NYRA will oppose the harness track's plans, Schwartz said that VLT's in Saratoga Springs would be a "nightmare" for the local community during the summer months, when NYRA holds the popular Saratoga meet.

"The town is already very crowded during the time we race," Schwartz said. "Restaurants are filled, hotels are filled. Everyone is overextended. Can you imagine having to deal with the strain of another couple thousand visitors? The traffic, everything, it would be a nightmare."