Monday, February 08, 2010

Paterson Aides Set To Walk Plank Over Casino Deal

New York State has been in talks to open a casino at the Aqueduct race track in Queens. It's turned into yet another disaster for Governor David Paterson, who apparently approved the deal not with a major player in the casino industry like Pinnacle, MGM, Wynn, or even the Trump organization, but to the Aqueduct Entertainment Group, which is made up of politically connected players and the tiny Navegante Group, which operates the Red Lion Casino and Hotel group of Elko, Nevada and several other casinos.

This deal stinks - which is par for the course for many of the Red Lion's hotel rooms, which reek of tobacco smoke despite any apparent renovations on rooms. It's a deal that reeks.

Now, some can point the fact that Navegante has owned, operated, or consulted with some of the big players in the past. Yet, their current portfolio suggests that they've gone backwards in a big way. All of their casino operations are in Elko, Nevada. The big names - like the Hard Rock Casino, Bally's, Venetian, etc., are all in the past - and as consulting clients - not as current casino operations. The company apparently shifted its focus away from consulting with big names to being a casino operator in Elko.

So, it's with little wonder that aides to Governor Paterson are said to be apoplectic over the decision.
"Aqueduct was the last straw for many of them, they all want out," said a source close to Paterson's aides. "Even on the inside, the Aqueduct decision is seen as corrupt," added a second administration source.

For months, aides to Paterson privately complained about what they called the governor's lack of focus on critical issues, his poor work habits and late-night, booze-fueled "disappearances" at trendy nightclubs and undisclosed locations -- when even his State Police bodyguards don't know where he is.

They've also groused about his penchant for spreading false rumors about aides and a peculiar reliance on two little-known assistants, Clemmie Harris and David Johnson, who have more power than his senior professional appointees.

But Paterson's decision to award the huge contract to operate thousands of video lottery machines to the Aqueduct Entertainment Group at the same time he was blatantly seeking Flake's endorsement was seen by many as the final unacceptable step.

"People on the inside have put up with a lot, but they're embarrassed by what the governor has done, he did it behind their backs, and he did it for reasons that they're very uncomfortable with," said a source close to the situation.

Several sources said Paterson has turned with a fury on his own aides, blaming them for a series of disastrous press reports on the Aqueduct contract, his once-again declining poll numbers, and a new round of rumors and reports -- including two recent disclosures in The Post -- that he is involved in relationships with women other than his wife.
As I noted over the weekend, rumors continue swirling around the Governor's personal life and that the New York Times is holding on to a report that would absolutely kill Paterson's reelection chances (as though that wasn't already a given his current political circumstances with no support-- from the Democratic party establishment or otherwise).

Aqueduct would be a huge deal for the casino industry and how a major player wouldn't have won the contract is baffling. After all, building world-class casino facilities and hotels are what the big players do. It's how the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas came into being. Building a major casino operation in New York City would be bringing a bit of Vegas to the biggest city in the US.

Now, you can question the appropriateness of having casinos as an economic development tool or that the problems with gambling that outweigh the benefits, but this deal reeks on all levels. Was the AEG bid the best, or just the most politically connected?

Who exactly were those politically connected that got this winning bid?

Drudge is running a headline with a link to a Fox News story that pretty much recaps all the rumor and innuendo that I've been covering over the weekend. It's pretty much a meta-story. There's no actual news broken here, just that Paterson continues denying that there's any wrongdoing or scandal set to break, and that the Times continues to not release whatever story some media outlets believe it's holding.

Still, it is quite possible that the career-ender may be related to the casino deal and that the Times is waiting for the right moment to spring it. Of course, it might find out that because it waited, it got scooped by other outlets, like the Daily News or Post. Trying to find a suitable moment to release a juicy scandal on New York this week might be tough, especially with another major snowstorm heading to the area midweek - settling the score with New York City pretty much missing out on the snowpocalypse to the South.

Well, the New York Times was apparently holding off on the story until they could get Paterson to respond to the allegations. That's apparently going to happen tomorrow, and the story should run some time after that. Gothamist has more.

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