Today’s news:

Rev. Flake backs out of Aqueduct deal

The Rev. Floyd Flake, the influential southeast Queens minister and former congressman, has withdrawn from the consortium of companies that comprise Aqueduct Entertainment Group, the winning bidder to develop and operate video lottery terminals at the Ozone Park track.

In a statement, Flake said his involvement in the Aqueduct deal, which is being investigated by the state inspector general, “has become a distraction” to his other community projects.

Community Board 10, which encompasses the Aqueduct racetrack, said last week that it supported AEG’s bid.

“I have a continuing obligation to my community and the various projects I created and developed including but not limited to the church, its related school, the retail facilities we established in the community, the Senior Citizens Housing Project, the home care operation and many others,” Flake said. “Unfortunately, my ongoing participation in Aqueduct Entertainment has become a distraction that has taken me and my attention away from the community projects I created and nurtured.”

AEG also said rap superstar Jay-Z “is not proceeding as an investor in the Aqueduct project.”

Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton said the community surrounding Aqueduct Race Track backs Aqueduct Entertainment Group’s winning proposal to install and operate 4,500 video lottery terminals at the Ozone Park track.

“It’s a solid proposal and can work,” Braton said during CB 10’s monthly meeting last Thursday night. “From the perspective of the community, we’ve been waiting for eight years for this to move forward.”

Braton said AEG, which has been scrutinized amid speculation that Gov. David Paterson chose the group because the politically powerful Flake was part of the consortium at the time of the board’s meeting, is going through negotiations with the state to work on a memorandum of understanding, or a contract that sets terms of the deal.

Meanwhile, the state inspector general’s office is investigating how AEG won the contract, which has to be signed off by Paterson and state Sens. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and John Sampson (D-Brooklyn).

Braton blamed the media for “newspaper articles that have taken on a life” that included reports about Flake and how AEG changed the terms of its bid in the final stretch

Braton said the community had five criteria that AEG passed with flying colors: Can they build it? Can they run it? Will the property mesh well with our community? Will the company work to minimize negative effects? Will the state make money?

Braton pointed to Turner Construction, Greenstar Services Corp. and Douglaston-based Levine Builders, developers that are part of AEG’s bid and have built high-profile projects in the city.

She said Larry Woolfe, head of AEG’s Navegante Gaming and formerly of MGM Grand in Las Vegas, is experienced at running casinos and has confidence in his group’s ability to operate the VLTs at Aqueduct.

“The track record that AEG has with this board indicates that yes, they can work with us,” she said.

AEG is holding a job fair March 20 starting at 9 a.m. at MS 137 at 109-15 98th St.

State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach) said she is not concerned about the inspector general’s investigation, but the Assembly will wait until the probe is completed before signing off on AEG’s bid.

“We want to make sure that everything is right,” she said.

Pheffer noted that March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month and said the state has a gambling prevention program, but the program has no offices in Queens.

“We have to realize that we’re bringing in with the VLTs ... a whole problem,” she said. “People are calling and saying, ‘What are you going to do for those who can’t control themselves?’”

An Ozone Park resident told CB 10 he was concerned about the effects the Aqueduct project would have in the community.

“If this Aqueduct thing gets approved and done, my taxes keep going up. My property values keep going down,” said the resident, who identified himself as Carl. “What about me? What about the guy that lives down the block from Aqueduct? I’ll have to deal with the traffic. I’ll have to deal with the crime.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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