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Delaware North wins deal on casino State Senate opposition changes his position

Delaware North, a privately held Buffalo company, will get the rights to develop and run the only legal casino in New York City, after the Republican-led State Senate gave its blessing to the deal Wednesday.

The company will build and run a casino with 4,500 slot machines at Aqueduct Racetrack, a contract that will add 1,200 jobs in Queens and another 50 at its Buffalo headquarters. For the state, it will mean upwards of $1 million in annual slot machine revenue sharing when the casino is completed in about 15 months.

A stalemate at the Capitol was broken Wednesday when Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said he was backing the Delaware North bid following support from a key Queens Senate Republican, Serpin Maltese, who represents the track. Maltese had raised objections about the Delaware North bid because it was not sweeping enough in its plans to make the casino a destination-type resort.

"Delaware North responded to the concerns voiced by Queens community residents and has provided more detailed information and a commitment to develop the area surrounding the track to ensure that Aqueduct becomes a destination venue with quality retail, business, hotel, conference and entertainment facilities," Maltese said in a statement. "With this commitment in hand, the Senate will agree to the selection of Delaware North so this important project can go forward."

Gov. David A. Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver recently approved the Delaware North bid. But backing by Skelos was needed, and Skelos aides Wednesday said he now agrees with the Buffalo firm's selection.

The matter had become an issue in State Senate races in the Buffalo area, with Democratic candidates saying Skelos was using Delaware North as a pawn in his attempt to help Maltese's re-election efforts.

Racetracks were approved for casinos just weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks as a way to bring revenues to the state. Delaware North runs three racetrack casinos in the state -- at Hamburg, Saratoga Springs and its own facility, Finger Lakes Racetrack. But the Aqueduct deal, given its prime location, is a major corporate boost for the company.

A couple weeks ago, Skelos said that Delaware North's plan "does not include an economic development proposal that would be a greater benefit in the long run." Skelos then met with company executives in Buffalo and urged them to work with community and political leaders in Queens to soothe any concerns about the company's bid.

Delaware North has since talked of being more receptive to a broader development plan for the site -- discussions that could pose legal problems if the two other bidders for the project try to assert that plans for the deal changed after the deadline.

While its overall development plans were far less ambitious in terms of amenities and other related projects at the track, Delaware North offered the most -- $370 million -- in the way of upfront payment to the state in return for the operating rights.

New York City developer SL Green and its partners, led by Hard Rock Entertainment, offered $250 million, while Capital Play, whose partners include Mohegan Sun casino, offered the state $100 million.

Delaware North's competitors had said they would generate far more money over the long term to the state than the Buffalo company and have offered plans to bring more vitality to the community.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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