03/25/2010 12:00AM

N.Y. horsemen blast governor's casino plan


Two New York horsemen's groups put out a joint press release Thursday condemning Gov. David Paterson's proposed plan to restart the bidding process from the beginning to select an operator of a casino at Aqueduct. The plan, if adopted, would likely delay the selection process until the end of the year.

The New York Thoroughbred Breeders and the New York Horsemen's Association said a delay of that magnitude would be a death knell to the $2.4 billion horse racing industry, which accounts for approximately 35,000 jobs statewide.

"Governor Paterson has reinstituted the death penalty in New York state, at least when it comes to the horse racing industry," the joint release said. "The governor's shocking plan to re-bid the Aqueduct casino project, a process that his own staff says could end up delaying [a] decision until Dec. 31 is disastrous. It is incomprehensible that at a time that New York state is drowning in red ink, that this governor would not seek the fastest, most intelligent solution, one which would infuse a million dollars a day into the state treasury."

The horsemen's groups want Paterson and the heads of the Assembly and Senate to simply choose a slots operator from the remaining four bidders after a plan to award the project to Aqueduct Entertainment Group was killed.

"Instead of hiding behind a needless, pointless process, which will only cost taxpayers money, jeopardize education, and put the final nail in the horse racing industry's coffin, the governor needs to decide which of the remaining casino bidders will be awarded this project. Any delay will surely kill horse racing and cost 35,000 hard-working New Yorkers their jobs."

Last week, Paterson asked leaders of the state's Assembly and Senate to sign off on a plan that would reopen the bidding process and leave the selection of the winning bidder to the state lottery. The plan would take the decision of who operates the slots project away from Paterson, state Rep. Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the assembly; and state Sen. John Sampson, the Democratic conference leader of the state Senate.

Earlier this year, Paterson selected - and Sampson and Silver approved, albeit conditionally - the Aqueduct Entertainment Group to operate the 4,500 slot machines at Aqueduct. However, the plan was scuttled when the state lottery concluded for various reasons that it could not issue AEG a gaming license. The selection of AEG has become the subject of an investigation by the state's attorney general.

Meanwhile, a bill was introduced Wednesday in the state Senate that also would alter the selection process, which would be expected to delay a decision by two months. The bill, introduced by Republican Sen. Marty Golden would require a major U.S. accounting firm to conduct a review of all bidders for the contract and issue recommendations. It also would require a "third-party reviewer" selected by government leaders to conduct an assessment of the recommendations made by the accounting company. Finally, a contract would not be awarded until after a joint public hearing conducted the Senate and Assembly.