05/26/2004 11:00PM

Pataki seeks new gambling commission

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NEW YORK - Gov. George Pataki announced a sweeping legislative plan on Thursday to eliminate the New York State Racing and Wagering Board and provide incentives for the timely installation of slot machines at Aqueduct racetrack.

Pataki's bill would consolidate several agencies into a new regulatory board, the New York State Gaming Commission. The new commission would replace the Racing and Wagering Board, the Division of the Lottery, the gambling division of the New York State Police, and the Capital Investment Fund. Breed-development funding groups for Thoroughbred and harness racing would be eliminated and folded into the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Pataki said the legislation would "facilitate the implementation" of slot machines at Aqueduct, one of the three tracks operated by the New York Racing Association. Plans to install slots at Aqueduct have been delayed because of concerns by MGM Grand, NYRA's partner in slots, about the status of NYRA's franchise to operate Aqueduct. The franchise expires in 2007.

Over the last year, Magna Entertainment Corp., the racing conglomerate, has added several high-profile lobbyists in New York in a bid to gain support for taking over the franchise. At the same time, NYRA's political capital has waned. Late in 2003, NYRA was indicted by federal prosecutors for tax fraud and conspiracy, but the association escaped prosecution in an unusual deal that included court-appointed monitors of NYRA. Pataki's plan would create a panel that would monitor all of NYRA's financial practices.

Sen. Joseph Bruno, who has been one of NYRA's strongest supporters, said he would support Pataki's legislation.

Barry Schwartz, NYRA's chairman and CEO, also welcomed the plan, specifically the facilitation of slots at Aqueduct and resulting revenue for education and purses for horsemen. "The legislation allows NYRA an opportunity to prove itself a model corporate citizen that benefits the entire state," Schwart said in a statement.