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State grants NYRA second extension

The New York Racing Association has reached an agreement with the Oversight Board and the state to continue racing at Aqueduct on a temporary basis through Wednesday, Feb. 13.

The agreement mirrors the one signed on Dec. 31, that extended racing at the NYRA tracks through Wednesday, Jan. 23.

While stakeholders in New York's vital thoroughbred industry are relieved that racing at NYRA's Aqueduct Racetrack will not be interrupted for the next few weeks, all would agree that the next step needs to be the awarding of a long-term racing franchise in the very near future, said C. Steven Duncker, NYRA chairman, in a written statement.

While we are disappointed that a final resolution has not been reached, we appreciate the diligent efforts of the Spitzer administration, said Duncker. "The latest temporary agreement provides the necessary time to enact legislation granting a long-term racing franchise."

The extension buys more time for the state Legislature and Gov. Eliot Spitzer's aides to negotiate a potential long-term extension for NYRA. The association's franchise ended Dec. 31, but was extended to Jan. 23 after state leaders failed to agree on a long-term plan for the Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga tracks.

Meanwhile, state legislators must also chose an entity to operate video lottery terminals at Aqueduct -- where 4,500 have been approved -- and possibly at Belmont and Saratoga.

The VLTs are potential boons for local communities. The proposed 4,500 at Aqueduct are expected to generate at least $500 million a year, most of it earmarked for education.

Spitzer is proposing raising $250 million by selling the rights to operate VLTs at Belmont Park. State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, favors adding the terminals at Belmont, with the revenue helping to support the state's schools.

However, VLTs at Belmont have run into stiff opposition from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, raising doubts that they will be included in the deal. Currently, legislation calls for VLTs at Aqueduct only.

Locally, officials are voicing the need for state legislators to tackle the issue early in the session, and not in conjunction with any other issue.

"I really think this is an issue that should be taken by itself, not linked with anything, and negotiated to the benefit of Saratoga Springs," said City Supervisor Joanne Yepsen, a Democrat who has lobbied state officials on racing.

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