Today’s news:

Guv to pick Aqueduct bidder soon

After months of delays, Gov. David Paterson said Friday he will announce his choice of a group to install and operate video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Race Track within the next week in a move that could help rescue the financially troubled New York Racing Association.

“If the two other [legislative] leaders cannot come to a conclusion and a decision about which group should be the sponsoring organization, then I will be forced, as I did last year, to announce my group and hope to persuade the two other leaders,” Paterson said Friday during an open house at the governor’s mansion in Albany, referring to state Senate President Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

Delaware North, a Buffalo-based company, was selected as the winner of the VLT contract at the Ozone Park track back in October 2008 under then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, but that deal died last March because the bidder was unable to give the state the $360 million upfront payment it promised the state.

Paterson reopened the bidding process for the VLT contract in April and the interested companies have been waiting to hear for a winner since then.

Four bidders are in contention for the contract: Aqueduct Entertainment Group, the Peebles Corp., SL Green and Penn National Gaming.

A fifth bidder, Wynn Resorts, backed out of the sweepstakes because Paterson required a $200 million franchise fee on top of the bid as a criteria to win the VLT contract.

When asked if he would pick a winning bidder in the next week, Paterson said, “I would think so.”

Paterson, Smith and Silver are responsible for selecting the winning bid. Paterson said if his choice differed from Smith’s and Silver’s, he would go along with their pick to move the process forward.

The New York Racing Association, which controls horse racing at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course, has said it is running out of cash and would be forced to not run the Belmont Stakes in June if it does not receive funds from the state.

NYRA is set to receive a portion of VLT funds once the machines are up and running.

Despite not selecting a bidder thus far, Paterson has already added the $200 million fee toward this year’s budget deficit.

The Belmont Stakes is the third leg of the Triple Crown of thoroughbred horse racing. If the winner of the Kentucky Derby prevails at the Preakness Stakes, they head into the Belmont Stakes for the chance of winning the Triple Crown — a feat which has only been accomplished 11 times since 1919 and has not happened since 1978.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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