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Queens Chronicle

NYRA: 'no plans' to shutter Aqueduct

Financial oversight board suggests closing racetrack to save money

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Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:16 am, Thu Sep 12, 2013.

The New York Racing Association says it isn't planning on closing Aqueduct Race Track despite a report in the Aug. 29 Albany Times-Union that said the horse-racing organization's financial oversight board suggested shuttering the track to save money and the fact that area officials aren't exactly opposed to the idea.

At a meeting of the cash-strapped entity's reorganization board in Saratoga Springs, closure of the South Ozone Park track —— one of three NYRA runs ó was brought up, according to the Times-Union article.

But NYRA spokesman Eric Wing later said that while everything is on the table, closure of the track is not imminent.

"All aspects of our operations are being reviewed by the New York Racing Association Reorganization Board," Wing said in an email last Thursday. "There are no plans, however, to close Aqueduct Race Track."

Aqueduct only operates in the winter months, with the two other tracks — Belmont in Nassau County and upstate's Saratoga — operating in summer and autumn.

The Big A has undergone a revitalization since Resorts World Casino New York City opened next to it in 2011, adding thousands of video lottery terminals at the site. Casino patrons can bet on horse races and access the grandstand directly from the casino floor. But Robert Megna, the stateís budget director, told NYRA not to rely on income from Resorts World to close the associationís budget gap.

NYRA recorded a $10.3 million operating loss in the first half of 2013, more than double that of last year, despite bringing in slightly more in revenue this year when Resorts Worldís VLTs are included.

Any closure of the track would not include closing the casino, which in 2012, turned in a bigger profit than casinos in Atlantic City or Connecticut.

The two state legislators representing Aqueduct both said they arenít completely opposed to the idea of closing the track, providing there is a plan for the future of the site — especially if it means an entity, such as Genting, the parent company of Resorts World, would be able to develop the land the track now sits on.

"I would support consolidating racing into one racetrack," said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park), alluding to the suggestion to make Belmont Race Track, right on the city line, into a year-round track. "It would allow for more economic development at Aqueduct. Genting is already there. You've already got the partners in place to get it done"

Goldfeder noted it would require new legislation to allow Resorts World to operate at a site that is no longer a racetrack and he would support a bill that would do that if NYRA felt it needed to close Aqueduct.

"I can definitely see them going down this path," said state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), a member of the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee. "But I cannot accept the closing without an alternative plan to benefit our community."

Addabbo noted, however, that closing Aqueduct wouldnít fix NYRAís problems.

"They're not going to solve their fiscal woes just by closing Aqueduct," he said. "Their financial issues run deeper."

The track does have some sentimental value in the community, Goldfeder noted. It has existed almost as long as the neighborhoods around it have. From 1963 to 1967, Aqueduct hosted the Belmont Stakes while Belmont was under renovation. In October, 1996, Pope John Paul II said Mass at Aqueduct in front of an audience of 75,000 people.

Rumors of the track's demise were common as attendance at races there dwindled in the 1990s. Suggestions that the track would become an outlet mall, a football stadium, part of JFK Airport or a housing development were passed from neighbor to neighbor in the communities around it.

In 2001, the state approved VLTs for the track, but a series of delayed and failed bids put those plans on hold until 2010, when Genting was awarded the bid to operate the VLTs. Genting opened Resorts World in October 2011.

Addabbo said the state had approved gambling at the site in hopes that it would save the track, but he noted NYRA, even with the money it takes in from Resorts World, has not been the best caretaker.

"Last year, NYRA received $15 million from the casino," he said. "But I've hardly seen $15 million in improvements going to Aqueduct."

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