04/29/2003 11:00PM

New York budget plan includes slots


NEW YORK - New York State legislators endorsed a budget plan Tuesday night that includes a slot-machine proposal supported by tracks and horsemen, but the plan has already drawn fire from Gov. George Pataki.

The slot-machine measure would provide tracks, horsemen, and breeders with 29 percent of the revenue from the machines over the next 10 years, just 1 percent below the 30-percent threshold publicly supported by many racing officials. The remainder of the revenue would go to New York schools and to the state lottery corporation, which would administer the slots program.

The budget proposal was hammered out between senators and assemblymen late Tuesday night. The budget restores many of the cuts to Medicaid and education that Pataki had proposed to help bridge an $11.5 billion deficit, and it raised income taxes on wealthy New Yorkers, a measure that Pataki has also said he opposes.

Pataki vowed to "do everything in my ability to keep [the budget] from becoming law," including exercising his veto power. State legislators said on Tuesday they believed they had the votes to override the veto.

The budget proposal is expected to come to the floor of both houses of the legislature by Friday.

Legislation that allowed slot machines at a handful of racetracks, including Aqueduct, in Queens, was initially passed in late 2001. The racetracks, however, have balked at building any slots facilities, complaining that the bill did not provide enough revenue to justify the multimillion-dollar loans needed to finance construction and renovation.

The adopted budget proposal would give racetracks 20.25 percent of the revenue in the first three years, with 7.5 percent going to purses and 1.25 percent going to breeders. In years four and five, tracks would get 20 percent, horsemen 7.75 percent, and breeders 1.25 percent. In years six through 10, tracks would get 17.5 percent, horsemen 10 percent, and breeders 1.5 percent.

Under the initial bill, tracks, horsemen, and breeders would have split a maximum of 25 percent of the revenues.

Dennis Brida, the executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders, said that breeders, horsemen, and tracks collaborated on getting support for the percentages in the new budget. "You won't see anyone kicking on this," Brida said.

Barry Schwartz, the chairman of the New York Racing Association, which operates Aqueduct, said Wednesday that he was still discussing the bill with his lobbyists and declined to comment on the specifics. But he said that the bill contains "a lot of good things and a couple of bad things."

Steve Casscles, an aide to Sen. Bill Larkin, the chairman of the Senate Racing and Wagering Committee, said that Larkin would support the proposal, even though it would replace a separate bill that Larkin planned to push through the racing committee this week guaranteeing tracks 30 percent of the revenue.

"We wanted the 30, but we're getting the indications that tracks will support this," Casscles said.