07/09/2006 11:00PM

Delaware North joins Empire bid

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Delaware North, the racetrack and casino operator, has joined Empire Racing Associates in its bid to win the franchise currently held by the New York Racing Association, the two companies announced Sunday.

The partnership is intended to strengthen Empire's bid to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Saratoga Racecourse, and a casino at Aqueduct. Empire is a coalition of horsemen and business and political leaders formed earlier this year to win NYRA's franchise, and Delaware North owns and operates racetracks and casinos in several states, as well as several entertainment facilities.

Empire Racing was one of 16 bidders that notified the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing by a deadline of June 30 that it intended to respond to the committee's request for proposals to operate the franchise, which expires Dec. 31, 2007. The partnership with Delaware North, which owns Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack in Farmington, N.Y., and operates casinos at two New York harness tracks, in Saratoga Springs and Buffalo, indicates that other companies interested in the franchise may also be waiting in the wings, as yet unidentified.

Robert Williams, the executive director of the ad hoc committee, said on Monday that companies that did not notify the committee by the June deadline could still join the bidding process by using the route taken by Delaware North - in partnership with one of the bidders that had already identified themselves.

"All Empire Racing is doing is adding partners to its own bid," Williams said. "They can do that, as can any of the other bidders."

Bidders must respond to the committee's request for proposals by Aug. 15. The committee will then take 30 days to evaluate the responses and issue its recommendations to the state legislature and the governor. The committee's recommendations will not be binding, and it is unclear if the current round of bidding will ultimately decide the winner.

Empire Racing has the exclusive endorsement of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, and many of its principals are New York residents who are involved in finance. In addition, the group's executive director, Jeff Perlee, is the former head of New York's lottery corporation, which administers slot machines at racetracks in the state.

Delaware North, which is privately held, is based in Buffalo, N.Y., but the company has operations worldwide. According to a release, the company had revenues of nearly $2 billion in 2005.