ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – The state Racing and Wagering Board reversed itself Monday and approved conditional licenses allowing the troubled Vernon Downs harness racing track to open as early as April 3.

An opening date will be set after meeting with the horse owners, said Vernon Downs spokesman Jim Moran. He said Monday’s agreement clears a major obstacle for the central New York track to install lucrative video lottery terminals, a slot-machine like gambling device operators say could generate $80 million a year in revenues.

A $3.6 million casino has been built at Vernon Downs to accommodate the new betting machines. Track operators said Monday they are applying for the separate license needed from the Racing and Wagering Board to offer VLT gambling.

The state Racing and Wagering Board gave conditional approval of licenses to race and offer closed-circuit broadcasts of races elsewhere for betting. The racing license approved 120 days of racing to start as early as April 3.

“I am pleased the track has presented a way to exclude unlicensed people from the operation of racing and has taken affirmative steps to address the fire safety issues identified by the state fire marshall,” said Racing and Wagering Board Chairman Michael Hoblock.

“Today we came one step closer to turning Vernon Downs around,” said Dave Wilson, acting chief executive officer.

“Opening the VLT facility is the only way to secure the future of this track. That’s the bottom line. More than 350 people have waited since last November to start their new jobs there, so this is no time to rest.”

The board approved an agreement from earlier this month between its staff and the operators of Vernon Downs, Mid-State Raceway Inc. In February, the board refused to renew the operating license for the track 35 miles east of Syracuse.

Last December, the racing board denied individual licenses to Las Vegas investor Shawn Scott, and former track President Hoolae Paoa. Both are contesting the decision regarding their personal licenses. In New York, operators as well as the tracks must be licensed.

Scott, who had controlled Midway, remains an investor in the track.

Twenty workers faced layoffs.

Under the agreement, Scott, who had been accused by investors and former track personnel of misusing loan money, will temporarily step aside while he appeals his license denial.

Scott had been at the center of the ongoing racino controversy in Maine. After purchasing Bangor Historic Track and winning voter approval for slot machines, he agreed to sell the harness track to Penn National Gaming.

Mid-State Raceway has hired Dennis Dowd, former chairman of New Jersey’s racing commission, as interim general manager.

AP-ES-03-22-04 1501EST

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