Aqueduct Race Track is not getting its fair share, one official is arguing, and he has a plan to force the state to focus on the dilapidated South Ozone Park venue.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) has introduced legislation that would force the New York Racing Association to use capital funds paid for with tax revenue specifically from Resorts World Casino New York City to pay for maintaining and fixing up Aqueduct Race Track’s grandstand and course.
“There’s a great race going on, but sadly Aqueduct is in last place,” Goldfeder said at a press conference with union leaders at the track on Monday.
As of now, only 4 percent of the tax revenue Resorts World has paid to the state — about $31 million since the casino opened in October 2011 — has gone to NYRA capital projects and almost all of that has gone to NYRA’s other two racetracks, Saratoga and Belmont. Goldfeder’s bill would require all of that 4 percent go directly to Aqueduct.
“We need to bring that money back and keep it in Queens,” he said.
Goldfeder is also calling on Gov. Cuomo to come up with a plan for the future of the track.
NYRA spokesman Eric Wing said they would review the legislation, but defended the organization’s support of Aqueduct.
“We have a responsibility to all three of our tracks,” he said in an email. “In 2008, we engaged in a transaction that exchanged the land at the three tracks for a percentage of [video lottery terminal] revenues with the understanding that the capital improvement portion of the funds would be used at all three tracks. We manage those funds in a prudent way for all three properties.”
Wing added that NYRA has spent $5 million at Aqueduct, including a state-of-the-art simulcasting center called “Longshots” that will open in April, new video boards and HD cameras and monitors, upgraded flooring and lighting, and a fresh coat of paint, as well as new murals that were painted in November.
“We plan to spend millions more on additional improvements at Aqueduct this year,” he added. “Anyone who joins the thousands of people who come to Aqueduct every single day can easily get a firsthand look at the many recent improvements.”
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said the situation is dicey because the state Legislature may not have the jurisdiction over NYRA that would allow Goldfeder’s bill to be enforced, but he agrees that the track, which hosted several Belmont Stakes in the 1970s and a Mass by Pope John Paul II in 1996, needs more attention.
Addabbo noted that the proposed closure of the track has been talked about for decades and various ideas — from a NASCAR track to a stadium — were proposed on the site before the casino. He also said the casino may make it easier to close the track and allow for new options there.
“We’ve dealt with this for years, getting them to understand the importance of Aqueduct,” he said. “The only silver lining is if Aqueduct was to go, Resorts World has first crack at that property.”
NYRA has hinted in the past that it would consider closing the track and allowing another entity, like Resorts World, to redevelop it, a proposal Goldfeder said last summer he would support if NYRA didn’t take care of the track.
“If NYRA wanted to combine summer and winter racing at Belmont and allow for new development at Aqueduct, that is something I can support,” Goldfeder said. “Of course we would be sorry to see Aqueduct go, but NYRA has got to do something.”
Last year, Cuomo sought to overhaul horse care at the track after more than a dozen deaths and injuries forcing the euthanizations of horses occurred at Aqueduct.
One of the changes NYRA made, according to Addabbo, was to shorten the racing season, which, though it decreased the number of horse deaths, has also decreased the track’s business.