02/12/2010 12:00AM

N.Y. politician seeks Aqueduct slots review


The controversy surrounding the selection of Aqueduct Entertainment Group to operate a casino at Aqueduct racetrack in New York City took a bizarre turn on Thursday when one of the three political leaders who made the selection called for the state's inspector general to investigate the process.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, made the request on Thursday, according to state officials. Along with Gov. David Paterson and Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, Silver made the selection of Aqueduct Entertainment Group to be the casino operator two weeks ago.

Stephen Del Giacco, a spokesman for State Inspector General Joseph Fisch, said that the office would have "no comment" on Silver's request on Friday.

In response to Silver's request, Gov. Paterson said on Thursday night that his office would welcome an inquiry and would make public "all documents germane to the selection process, including all submissions, bids, and solicitations" on Tuesday.

Previously, the state had refused to release any documents regarding the bidders or the process by which a bidder would be selected, including the criteria that state leaders would use to evaluate the proposals.

The statement by Paterson also made reference to Silver's role in selecting Delaware North Cos. to operate the casino in 2008 under an identical process used to select Aqueduct Entertainment Group this year. Silver participated in the selection of Delaware North with Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. Spitzer later resigned in a sex scandal, and Bruno was convicted in December on two felony federal corruption charges. Delaware North backed out of the deal after reneging on a promise to pay the state a $370 million upfront fee to operate the casino for 30 years.

"In 2008, Speaker Silver - along with Gov. Spitzer and Senator Bruno - was one of the architects of the process by which a [casino] operator would be selected by the state, a process that grants equal statutory authority, responsibility and accountability to the Speaker, the Temporary President of the Senate, and the Governor," said the statement. "Since then, the speaker has been involved in the selection of two [casino] operators, including his full endorsement of AEG last month."

The selection of Aqueduct Entertainment has become a lightning rod because of political considerations and the hundreds of millions of dollars that are at stake in the contract. Most gambling analysts believe the Aqueduct casino will generate at least $500 million in net revenue a year, and the operator is entitled to 30 percent of that.

Aqueduct Entertainment Group was picked over four other bidders. Slot machines were first authorized at Aqueduct in 2001. The racing industry is eager to see the casino up and running because it will provide approximately $70 million in annual subsidies for racetrack operations and purses.