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VLT profit roads still unclear in Saratoa Springs

As the battle for who would run thoroughbred racing in New York was expected to end Wednesday, Feb. 13, the issue of profit sharing by way of state video lottery terminals (VLTs) has muddied negotiations between state leaders and racing and gaming operators.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, outlined the framework of an agreement between lawmakers and the New York Racing Association that would allow racing to continue in the state under greater government oversight and more than $70 million to bail the association out of debt.

That money is to be borrowed against future profits by way of video lottery terminals throughout the state.

However, proposed legislation failed to pass a state Assembly committee that sought to give VLT operators a greater share of the money. Subsequently, Vernon Downs, a racetrack near Syracuse with video-lottery terminals was unable to meet financial strains and closed for the time being without additional money.

In Saratoga Springs, city officials are hoping their goal to secure a greater share of VLT dollars will become a reality.

Under Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposed budget, the city stands to lose half of its $3.8 million in VLT profits in 2009, and in 2010 no VLT money will go to the city, said Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson in a Feb. 8 interview.

Johnson has been lobbying Senator Bruno to reinstate the money and seek a greater share of the estimated $150 million in revenue for 2008. Although the VLT sharing formula and ongoing discussions between state lawmakers and NYRA regarding a racing franchise agreement are separate issues, they are both great concerns of the city, Johnson said, and have local leaders scrambling to ensure Saratoga Springs is in the financial loop.

I'd be in favor of anything that gives our community more say in racing and wagering. I'm going to be lobbying to retain VLT revenue now and in the future, Johnson said.

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