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Hundreds Protest End Of Aqueduct Racino Deal

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Hundreds of people who work in the horse-racing industry from Queens and Long Island rallied Sunday at Belmont Park to demand the state deliver on what they say was promised to them. NY1’s CeFaan Kim filed the following report.

Fed up with Albany's inaction, hundreds who rely on the state's horse racing industry say they turned out to send a message to state leaders.

"Some would say we've convened here, this gathering, to mourn the death of an entire industry,” said New York Thoroughbred Breeders Executive Director Jeffrey Cannizzo. “I say we've gathered here to tell an entire generation of Albany leaders that we have no intention of dying."

By now, Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens was supposed to be undergoing a Las Vegas-style makeover to become a state-of-the-art gambling destination, where video lottery terminals and horse racing would operate side by side.

But now that deal to bring 4,500 VLTs to the track has fallen apart, after Aqueduct Entertainment Group – the group chosen by Governor David Paterson and other state officials to run the racino – failed to clear the necessary state hurdles. When the AEG deal disappeared, so did the $300 million the group had agreed to pay the state upfront.

"There is no good reason that VLTs and the revenue flowing to the necessary parties is not up and running,” said Rick Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

Aqueduct was forced to cancel Sunday’s opening race following a boycott organized by New York horsemen.

According to the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, horse racing is a $2.4 billion industry in the state, providing 35,000 jobs. It says the lack of the enhanced Aqueduct racino is costing the state a million dollars a day in lost revenue.

It's been nine years since state leaders announced video lottery terminals would be coming. Those rallying here say they cannot afford to wait any longer.

"I pony horses at Aqueduct and I also work in the jockey club in an office in the afternoon, so if they close Aqueduct down, I'm out of a job and I have three horses that are out on the street with me,” said Aqueduct employee Mary Kaiser.

"It directly affects us; we lose everything,” said horse trainer Betsy Parker. “All of our owners are New York-based. We would have to go where? Where are we gonna' go?"

Paterson says he wants to select a new bidder by the beginning of May, but says he still needs to talk to legislative leaders about how the new selection process will proceed.

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