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Delaware North deal for Queens casino stuck in neutral

ALBANY -- Movement to give a lucrative contract to Delaware North to run a downstate casino remained stalled Wednesday, with the Republican and Democratic heads of the State Senate using the matter as campaign fodder against each other.

Buffalo's Delaware North Cos. has been backed by Gov. David Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to run a new casino, with 4,500 slot machines, at Aqueduct racetrack in Queens. But Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Nassau County Republican, has blocked the deal until the company makes some guarantees about expanding its proposal to include hotel, entertainment and retail space at the site.

Skelos met with Delaware North officials Tuesday in Buffalo, at which he urged executives to meet with groups in Queens about their new more expansive development plans.

But Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, a Queens Republican, said Skelos is now risking a lawsuit in the matter. He said Delaware North is now being allowed to change its proposal made in a competitive bidding process against two other groups. He called the move "highly inappropriate and reckless."

Smith said Skelos is giving an opportunity to the two groups vying against Delaware North ammunition to sue the state for giving preferential treatment to the Buffalo firm's bid -- a move that will further delay a casino that could bring the state $1 million a day in revenue.

"He's now opening up a bidding process," Smith said of Skelos. "We are now open to litigation," he added in an interview.

Smith said he had supported one of Delaware North's competitors -- he would not say who -- but now is backing the decision by Paterson and Silver. Skelos also needs to agree for a deal to be finalized.

Smith said Skelos is "putting politics over people" and denying jobs and economic development in both Queens and Buffalo.

In a written statement, Skelos said Smith's own constituents in Queens have made clear they want the area around the track developed into more than just a casino that Delaware North originally proposed. Skelos said Delaware North officials will be in Albany this week briefing Senate GOP staff on their plan, and will present their plan to officials in Queens "in an effort to expedite" the final selection of the casino operator.

The Delaware North contract has taken on a surreal political quality to it. Each day since Friday's announcement by Paterson, the sides have sought to portray each other as out of touch with Buffalo and Queens. The contract would be a major boost for Delaware North, and create 1,200 jobs in Queens and 50 in Buffalo.

Senate candidates, too, on both sides in the Buffalo area have sought to use the dispute to propel their campaigns.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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