06/30/2003 11:00PM

Trump blasts NYRA in ad

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NEW YORK - New York real estate and casino magnate Donald Trump jumped into the fray surrounding the New York Racing Association when he purchased a full-page advertisement in the Tuesday edition of The New York Times that compared NYRA to the gangster Al Capone.

The advertisement, which appeared on the back page of the Times's Metro section, appears to be a thinly veiled call for legislators to reconsider allowing slot machines at NYRA racetracks. It states that Capone "would have loved" the idea of slots at tracks, and closes by saying, "Say NO to slots at the racetrack."

Trump owns casinos in New Jersey, and his lobbyists have railed against casinos in upstate New York and expanded gambling in New Jersey. Any expansion in the Northeast would mean increased competition for his properties.

Trump was also one of two finalists for the operating contract for NYRA's slots operation. NYRA selected MGM, however, to manage its casino.

Trump did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday, and NYRA officials did not return phone calls.

The ad contains a factual error. It states that New York legislators are considering a proposal to allow slots at all of NYRA's tracks, including Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga, when, in fact, the Legislature passed a bill in 2001 that was amended earlier this year that allows slots only at Aqueduct, Finger Lakes, and a handful of harness tracks. No bill expanding gambling beyond those tracks has made any measurable progress.

The ad leans heavily on a highly publicized report released two weeks ago by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer that was critical of NYRA management. The report focused on the conviction of 19 NYRA mutuel employees on charges of tax evasion or money laundering over the past three years.

"Obviously, the ground under our racetracks is most fertile for growing 'this culture of criminality' in New York," the ad states, referencing a phrase in Spitzer's report.

It is unclear what Trump is hoping to accomplish with the advertisement. The tone of the ad seemed to suggest that legislators reevaluate the bill that legalized the machines. The ad could also have been produced in order to generate public outcry about the slots in advance of an anticipated court ruling that could nullify the Legislature's action.

The New York State Supreme Court is considering a challenge of the slots legislation on the grounds that the state constitution does not allow for slot machines. Supreme Court Judge Joseph Teresi is expected to issue a ruling on the matter "imminently," said Cornelius Murray, an Albany lawyer who filed the suit, on Tuesday.