03/17/2010 12:00AM

Changes sought in Aqueduct casino selection


New York Gov. David Paterson has asked leaders of the state's General Assembly and Senate to sign off on a plan that would reopen the bidding to operate a casino at Aqueduct and leave the selection of the winning bidder to the state lottery, according to his aides.

The plan, which would deprive Paterson and the legislative leaders of control over the process, would need to be approved by both Rep. Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, and Sen. John Sampson, the Democratic conference leader of the state senate. If the plan were approved, selection of an operator for the long-stalled casino could take months.

Morgan Hook, a spokesman for Paterson, said the plan would align the selection process with the procedures used to select other contractors who do work for state government. Control over the process to select the Aqueduct casino was granted to the three leaders by statute several years ago.

"We'd like to put out a new resolution letter, put it out for bids again on an expedited basis, but we'd like the process to be transparent this time," Hook said. "We'd like it to be modeled after the standard state procurement procedures."

A spokesman for Silver, Dan Weiller, would not comment on whether Silver supported Paterson's proposal.

"The conversations continue on the best way to proceed," Weiller said.

Phone calls to Sampson's office were not returned Wednesday.

Last week, Paterson abandoned his support for the trio's previous selection, a sprawling, politically connected partnership that called itself Aqueduct Entertainment Group, after officials of the lottery said that they would be unable to grant a gambling license to the partnership.

Prior to that development, the selection of AEG had become a target of wide-ranging criticism because of the group's political connections. In addition, Silver had asked the state's inspector general to investigate the selection. The probe was cited last week by a spokesperson for the lottery as one of the reasons the group could not be issued a license.

Several other legislative leaders have asked the state to expedite the process by making its selection from the other four bidders who submitted proposals to operate the casino, which will likely generate at least $200 million in operating cash and another $50 million in marketing funds annually for the winning bidder.

The New York Racing Association, which operates Aqueduct, would receive approximately 7 percent of the annual revenues from the casino, and horsemen in New York would receive approximately 6.5 percent of the revenues.