12/16/2008 1:00AM

N.Y. governor proposes slots at Belmont


New York Gov. David Paterson on Tuesday proposed that the state authorize slot machines at Belmont Park as one of more than 100 ways for the state to raise revenue in the face of a projected $15.4 billion budget deficit next year.

The authorization would raise $370 million for the state, according to the budget, through a one-time franchise fee from the company that would be selected to operate the casino. Slot machines are currently legal at nine other New York racetracks, including Aqueduct. Both Aqueduct and Belmont are operated by the New York Racing Association.

Republicans in the state senate and lobbyists for casino companies have long pushed for slot machines at Belmont, but Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver - who, like Paterson, is a Democrat - has consistently blocked those efforts.

Dan Weiler, a spokesman for Silver, declined to comment when asked whether Silver remained opposed to slot machines at Belmont.

"All I can say is that we are currently reviewing the entire executive budget," Weiler said.

Silver has previously said that he does not support Belmont slot machines because of fears that a casino would cannibalize revenues from other casinos in the state. The closest casino to New York City that is now operating is located in Yonkers. Belmont is located eight miles from Aqueduct, which is expected to open its casino in the first quarter of 2010.

The New York legislature authorized slot machines in 2001, but Belmont was left out of the mix because of concerns that the track's local community would object. Saratoga Racecourse, the third New York track operated by NYRA, also was left out of the legislation because of concerns that slot machines would irrevocably change the historic track.

Over the past several years, officials of the community of Elmont, where Belmont is located, have been pushing for slot machines, in part because of promises of development by lobbyists connected to casino companies.

The Aqueduct casino project has been stalled because of a variety of political circumstances surrounding the franchise extension eventually granted to NYRA earlier this year. Two months ago, the state selected Delaware North to run the Aqueduct casino under an agreement that will require the company to pay the state $370 million as a franchise fee. The payment schedule has not yet been finalized, and construction on the casino has not started.

Most analysts expect the casino at Aqueduct to generate $500 million in annual revenues. A casino at Belmont Park would be expected to generate a similar amount of revenue.

NYRA officials did not return phone calls Tuesday. Previously, Charles Hayward, the president of NYRA, had said that the association did not want to comment on the possibility of slot machines at Belmont, saying that the decision was in the hands of legislators.