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Delaware North to focus its efforts this week on Skelos

With two of the three state government leaders backing its bid to win a lucrative contract to run a sprawling casino at a downstate racetrack, Delaware North officials said they will make an all-out push this week to convince the lone holdout to embrace the company's proposal.

The Buffalo company's first mission will be to convince Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos that its plans for Aqueduct racetrack in Queens are bold enough.

The project involves building and operating what, in terms of the number of slot machines, would be the nation's fourth largest casino. The Aqueduct site, which has its own subway stop, will have 4,500 slot devices known as video lottery terminals.

Delaware North officials say it would be a major boost for the Buffalo company, already one of the nation's largest privately held corporations. In addition to revenues from the restaurants and bars, Delaware North would get a share -- along with the state and racing industry -- of the $450 million a year in gross gambling revenues projected in the early years of operations.

"This would greatly increase the size of our gaming corporation," Bissett said.

Friday, the long-stalled project -- first approved as a state revenue-raising move in the weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks -- advanced as Gov. David A. Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver backed Delaware North's bid.

But Skelos, who has veto power over the deal, balked late Friday, saying too many questions remained about Delaware North's plans, which he described as compared with those by two other bidders, who proposed a massive destination-style entertainment site that, they said, would bring the state more money in the long-run.

Bissett said Sunday that the Delaware North proposal includes far more than just a casino. The other developments would be undertaken once the casino succeeds.

"We've always viewed this project as one of staged development," he said.

The casino would be a major prize for the Buffalo company. The project, to cost more than $250 million, would result in a "very large boost" in Delaware North's gambling subsidiary, Bissett said. He estimated that it could add as many as 50 jobs in Buffalo and 1,200 in Queens.

In addition to SL Green, Delaware North is competing against SL Green, a Manhattan developer whose partners include Hard Rock Entertainment; and Capital Play, whose major partners include Mohegan Sun, the Connecticut casino company.

Skelos, a Republican from Rockville Center on Long Island, said Friday that going with Delaware North "may not be in the best long-term interests of the state or for the communities that surround Aqueduct." He faulted the Buffalo company's bid for not trying to make Aqueduct "a true destination venue."

But Bissett said nothing guarantees that competitors actually will build the hotel, retail and entertainment space. And he questioned the estimates of revenue that the state would receive over 30 years.

"We've gone in a very conservative fashion so the state can rely on the numbers we project," he said.


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