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OFFICIALS MAY GIVE NEW LIFE TO RACETRACK

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Wednesday that he would like to come back and cut the ribbon when the Batavia Downs racetrack resumes live racing.

Silver did not promise that would happen, but the Manhattan Democrat seemed sympathetic, acknowledging the positive business impact that harness racing could have on Western New York's lagging economy.

Silver came to Batavia to tour the track and meet with local government and business leaders. About 70 officials toured Batavia Downs, which last conducted races in 1997. Financial problems forced cancellation of the 1998 season, and later that year Western Regional Off-Track Betting bought the track for $2.4 million.

OTB wanted to resume live racing, but state legislation is needed for the quasi-public agency to seek dates for racing. In the past two years, enabling legislation never got out of committee.

This year, however, could be different, with new Assembly Majority Leader Paul A. Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga, and State Sen. Mary Lou Rath, R-Williamsville, listed as sponsors.

In a hopeful sign earlier this month, the Assembly Committee on Racing and Wagering passed and sent to the influential Ways and Means Committee legislation that would permit live racing under the OTB banner.

Silver repeatedly stressed the "economic opportunities this project presents."

However, he conceded there could be barriers. "We're a big and diverse state, and there is opposition to be dealt with," he said.

Martin C. Basinait, president of Western Regional OTB, said racing at Batavia Downs and Buffalo Raceway would result in 1,400 jobs and millions of dollars in salaries, goods and services.

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