01/31/2003 12:00AM

N. Y. slots plan faces overhaul


NEW YORK - A plan advanced by Gov. George Pataki to eliminate New York's horsemen and breeders from the initial proceeds of slot machines at racetracks stands little chance of being enacted, according to several industry and legislative officials.

Officials said they believed that Pataki's plan, which is part of his budget and is subject to approval by the New York legislature, would go through substantial revisions over the next several months as legislators hammer out alternate plans and tweak the existing proposal. The provisions to eliminate horsemen from initial revenue will ultimately get the ax, they predicted.

"I don't think this is a plan that will take hold," said Dennis Brida, the executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Association. "There will be a correction, so I remain optimistic."

Brida, speaking from St. John's in the Caribbean, where he was vacationing, said he wondered if the proposal was a trial balloon "to see what would shake out."

Pataki's proposal would cut out horsemen, including breeders, from the first two years of revenue from slot machines at tracks. Under the legislation that initially authorized slots at tracks, horsemen would receive 35 percent of the racing industry's share of slots money in the first year, and 45 percent in subsequent years. The breeding industry would receive 5 percent.

Under Pataki's proposal, horsemen would eventually receive 20 percent of the racing industry's share of the slots money, but not until slots had been operating for 10 years. The breeding industry would eventually receive 5 percent, as outlined in the original legislation, but only after 10 years also.

Richard Bomze, the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, called the proposal "bizarre."

"I just cannot believe that Pataki knew about all the things in this bill," Bomze said. "It's impossible that the horsemen in New York would be the only horsemen in the world who would not wind up with any money from slots at a track."

Legislation authorizing slots at Aqueduct, Finger Lakes, and a handful of harness tracks was passed in late 2001 as a way to raise money for the state. But racetracks have criticized the legislation for failing to provide enough money for tracks to justify an investment in the slots operations.

Pataki's proposal was an attempt to meet racetrack demands for more money, said Robert Flynn, the executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "Unfortunately," Flynn said, the proposal "created a problem that was larger than the one that already existed.

"It wouldn't make sense for the racing industry to accept this, for the horsemen to get nothing," Flynn said, predicting that the proposal as written would eventually "eliminate" the racing industry. "If you aren't going to give any money to purses, then why put them at the racetracks? Just put them at every supermarket in the state instead."

Already, legislators are devising bills that would nullify the slots provisions in Pataki's budget proposal, said one top legislative official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The official said that Sen. Bill Larkin, the chairman of the legislature's Racing and Wagering Committee, was already working with horsemen's groups on a bill that "takes a very different approach" to splitting slots revenue, an arrangement more favorable to horsemen.

The legislative official said that if Pataki's proposal were passed as written, it would be dead in the water once the machines were installed.

"The original legislation called for racetracks to receive the machines," the official said. "So all the horsemen would have to do is boycott, which means no racing, which means no racing license, which means no slots. It's as simple as that."