After years of inexplicable delay, the state has settled on a private company to run a new casino planned for Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. Governor Paterson chose an outfit called Aqueduct Entertainment Group even though one of the other four bidders, Penn National, offered more money—$300 million—as an initial payment to the state, and another company, SL Green, has a much stronger record of success.
A notable Queens power broker, former Democratic congressman Floyd Flake, happens to be a member of AEG, and several cronies of Senate President Malcolm Smith—Mr. Flake’s protégé—are connected with the company and with a dubious charity called New Direction Local Development Corp. So it is reasonable for people to suspect that merit may not have been the decisive factor in this drawn-out decision. There’s no question that the project excited lots of interest from would-be operators eager to cash in profits from 4,500 slot machines. But there are questions about why Governor Paterson decided on AEG, and whether AEG is the right group to turn the tired racetrack into a true destination for small-time gamblers.
The state owes taxpayers not just an announcement, but an explanation. What distinguished AEG’s bid from other bidders? Why did the state not go with SL Green, with its strong track record? Is the cash-strapped state going to get maximum revenue under AEG’s management?
This deal calls for greater transparency and more than a little skepticism. New York needs to squeeze every dollar it can from the deal—this has to be a cash cow for taxpayers, not a patronage mill for the friends of AEG. Mr. Paterson must reopen the process—and this time, he should get it right.