Aqueduct: And Then There Was One!
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
And then there was one!
Almost a decade ago, recognizing back then that New York State was in serious financial straits, the Legislature legalized video gambling devices at racetracks to provide revenue which would be divided between the racetracks and the state and be used to underwrite the failing New York Racing Association Inc., the not-for-profit which operates racing at Aqueduct and Saratoga. VLT’s or Video lottery terminals similar to slot machines, were approved at five locations, including Aqueduct.
In 2007, the state issued a request for proposals to operate the video lottery terminals at Aqueduct. In 2008, they selected Delaware North as the winning bidder but plans fell apart when the company was unable to make a $370 million upfront payment.
And then there were seven!
In July 2009 in yet another round of New York State performing at its best, seven companies submitted bids to develop the Racino at Aqueduct: Aqueduct Entertainment Group, Delaware North, MGM, Mohegan Sun, Penn National Gaming, SL Green Realty, and Steve Wynn.
The bidders each marched through Queens, met with the community, discussed job opportunities with local groups and unions, came and met the press and went through some sort of public vetting process. At least we all knew who the devils were.
The selection process was delayed for several months because State officials frequently changed the rules and could not reach an agreement on the winning bidder, prompting Steve Wynn to pull out of the running in November.
And then there were six!
On January 29, 2010, Governor David Paterson announced Aqueduct Entertainment Group would run the casino.
And then there was one, but not for very long!
The selection was met with immediate controversy because of charges that AEG, which had the worst initial bid of those bidding, was allowed to change its bid. Additionally, the role of one AEG investor, South Queens powerbroker the Rev Floyd Flake, and his support in the upcoming Governor election became entangled when Paterson and Flake met right after the award. The U.S. Attorney started investigating the selection, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver added conditions for his approval, AG Cuomo questioned the process, the public cried foul and the State once again changed its mind. In March of this year, the State announced that a new group would be selected through an “expedited, transparent, apolitical and publicly accountable process.”
At this point, the gaming industry journals started questioning whether professional and reputable casino operators would participate in a process with the State.
And then there were six!
On June 2, 2010, New York Lottery officials announced that six groups were considering submitting bids with an anticipated selection by August. On June 29, only three of the firms submitted bids — (SL Green/Hard Rock Cafe, Genting Group and Penn National).
And then there were three!
The three groups, the finalists in a decade-long process which had been botched and changed by a politically driven State, were in line for a lucrative payoff of the 4,500 VLTs Racino at Aqueduct.
The lottery commission then said Penn National and SL Green both submitted bids that failed to follow rules and mandatory provisions set forth in the state’s request for proposals.
“The third proposal submitted by Genting New York appears to conform with all requirements of the bid submission process and will continue to be evaluated,” said Gordon Medenica, head of the New York Lottery.
And then there was one, again!
Genting, that’s who — a Malaysian entertainment mega-company that we know nothing about.
Unlike all the other participants in the pathetic State bidding dance, Genting has not sat with the press, community leaders, labor, local electeds or anyone but perhaps Albany insiders.
And they are the final bidders to operate what could be, except for the airports, the largest grossing locale in our borough. The numbers are staggering!
We find it surprising that nobody knows their name and they are about to emerge as the new dominant force in Queens.
Hey Albany, you messed it up so many times, might we suggest that you tell these Genting folks to come meet the community, the press and the people to discover what Queens is all about before we give away the store.
And then there was one!
Weekly Budget Poem
I said I’d right a poem every week until the New York State Legislature passes a budget. It’s sort of my form of punishment – for me and you.
Sensible for all New York,
But still can’t budge it!
Budget Deadlock Day 105: Will The Money Run Out?
By HENRY STERN
By HENRY STERN
The state budget - or the lack of it - is as unpleasant a subject as the heat wave, and we had hoped that by now both issues would have been resolved.
Unfortunately, the parties in Albany are still far apart. Today we are 105 days behind the legal deadline, which means the new state fiscal year, 2011, is now more than one-quarter over. During the Pataki era (1995-2006) a couple of budgets were not approved until August, but we were promised that when the governorship and both houses of the legislature come under one party (the Democrats) that issues would be settled promptly and amicably.
Though there are many disputes simmering in Albany, the current deadlock is about adopting the budget. Whatever else the executive and legislative branches are supposed to accomplish this year remains in limbo, partly because there is a lame-duck governor, partly because the Democrats have a bare majority of 32 senators, which means every one of them must vote for a bill to pass it.
In the current standoff, both houses have passed bills specifying appropriations. As might be expected, they differ. However, only the Assembly has passed a revenue bill, which is needed to pay for the expenditures, or at least some of them. The Senate cannot muster 32 votes to pass a tax bill because Senator William Stachowski of Buffalo will not approve any measure which does not provide increased status and authority for the State University at Buffalo. To insist on this expansion of SUNY-Buffalo, Stachowski is withholding support for an agreed upon re-instatement of the state’s portion of sales tax on clothing under $110, which both houses are depending upon to balance the budget. The Democrats oppose the expansion of power for SUNY-Buffalo (and Stony Brook) because potentially all 64 state colleges could seek independence and operate autonomously, raising tuition at will and leaving some institutions far stronger than others.
Senator Stachowski is also reported to be displeased because, as a leading Democrat on the Finance Committee, he expected to chair the committee when the Democrats regained control of the Senate. However, that plum went to Carl Kruger, who with the ‘three amigos,’ Espada, Monserrate and Diaz, Sr., effectively controlled the organization of the DINO (Democratic in name only) senate.
In fact, it was former Majority Leader Malcolm Smith’s refusal of Espada’s demand for millions of state dollars to subsidize the Soundview Health Center that he and his three sons operate, that triggered the Espada-Monserrate revolt that led to Smith’s unseating as majority leader and Sampson’s installation as conference chair, with benefits.
Public confidence in the State Senate was not enhanced by the resulting June 8 coup, in which Senator Pedro Espada and former Senator Hiram Monserrate voted with the 30 Republicans to displace the Democratic leaders and form a new Republican majority. After a month of anarchy, Espada returned to the fold, and was rewarded with the majority leadership, formerly held by Malcolm Smith, who was kicked upstairs.
As a by-product of this successful piracy, Richard Ravitch was appointed Lieutenant Governor by Governor Paterson and Judge Jonathan Lippman persuaded three judges on the Court of Appeals to join him in finding the appointment constitutional, although it was historically unprecedented in the 233-year history of the State of New York. Paterson now says he regrets the appointment because he feels Ravitch is too close to Speaker Silver and to establishment figures in NY City.
Much of what remains of authority in Albany is concentrated in the Assembly Speaker, who is clearly master of his own house. However, prospective governor Andrew Cuomo is already making his own judgments on issues in which the speaker may have an interest, professional or personal. The de facto Democratic senate leader, John Sampson of Brooklyn, does not have enough votes to override a governor’s veto. (Silver does, but both houses must concur in order to override.)
A great deal of what has been going on in Albany for years is confusing to most people.
Media reports shed some light on events, but do not reveal the motivations of the actors.
What it comes down to is that all factions of both parties are acting in what they believe is their own partisan interest. The result has been deadlock, with the possibility of a descent into chaos as time goes on and the money runs out.
One conclusion most New Yorkers have drawn is distaste for all the combatants and their self-serving manipulation of facts and events. But the remedy for this situation is harder to discern.
The result so far is deadlock, which can theoretically continue until the State runs out of money. Since its finances have been so manipulated, no one can predict with certainty when that will be. But as with Bernie Madoff, the day is certain to come.