Senecas, Genting top gambling campaign contributions to lawmakers
As the battle over casino expansion heats up in New York, gambling interests are ratcheting up their spending on lobbyists—and their campaign contributions.
Over the last year and a half, two of the biggest spenders on the gambling front—the Seneca Nation of Indians and Genting New York—have dramatically boosted their efforts to influence the state’s lawmakers.
And opponents of gambling said the casinos’ political dollars will make it hard for lawmakers to hear their side of the story.
“We can’t begin to spend money like they are,” said Joel Rose, chairman of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York, which includes secular groups that fear gambling’s economic impact and religious groups that oppose it on moral grounds. “We will be talking to legislators and we will get our message out. Not as repeatedly as they will—they’re trying to buy the state.”
The Seneca Nation of Indians, which operates three full-fledged casinos, gave $142,500 in campaign contributions in the last half of 2011, more than any other gambling-related entity.
Of course, the Senecas have other issues to sort out with the state, such as New York’s collection of taxes on cigarettes sold on their lands.
But one of their biggest issues has to do with the gaming compact with the state that grants them exclusive rights to operate casinos in western New York: They fear Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature will expand gaming within that zone.
That concern is one likely reason behind the dramatic boost in their campaign contributions. In the second half of 2010, including the November elections, the Senecas gave nearly $120,000. But in the same period a year before, in 2009, they gave only $10,400.
“The Seneca Nation will continue to be aggressive but sensible in its efforts on all fronts to educate legislators and other state leaders about their responsibilities as they craft a constitutional amendment on gaming,” said Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter, who supports legalization as long as there is no expansion in the Senecas’ exclusivity zone. “We know that private gambling interests from Asia, that will take their profits outside the state, will outspend us at least 10:1 on lobbying and political donations. We will support those allies in state government who support the Nation and our 6,000 employees.”
Genting New York, the unit of the Malaysian company Genting Berhad that operates the recently opened Resorts World New York racino at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, was the next-largest gambling-oriented donor in the second half of 2011, with nearly $100,000 in contributions.
The company contributed $96,900 to an array of elected officials, party committees and a political action committee dedicated to expanding gaming solely at the state’s nine racetrack casinos, including Genting’s lucrative new facility at Aqueduct.
Genting gave $20,000 to the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee and $10,000 each to the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, the state Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
In the same period, more than $66,000 in campaign contributions came from Tioga Downs, a racetrack casino not far from Binghamton in Nichols,N.Y., and its owner, Jeff Gural, and his family. Yonkers Raceway, its political action committee and its owner, Tim Rooney, contributed more than $56,000.
But so far, lobbying is still where the bulk of the cash is going. Genting spent $975,000 last year on a team of lobbyists in its bid to carve out a place for itself in the state’s gambling landscape. The Senecas spent $73,557 in the first half of 2011; its second-half numbers have not been posted.
“Most groups do end up spending more on lobbying than on campaign contributions,” said NYPIRG’s Bill Mahoney. “There’s no limits on that, first off. And they’ve mastered the art of running ads that have just as much of an impact in terms of influencing elected officials that lobbying works better for them in some ways.”
For Genting, the spending may be paying off. This month, Cuomo announced a deal with Genting to build the country’s largest convention center next to its racetrack casino, though the governor quickly had to defend the plan against criticism that it was premature and that his negotiations lacked transparency.
The deal also raised concerns that the company would have the inside track to getting exclusive rights to operate a casino in New York City. A spokesman for Genting did not respond to a request for comment.
Tags: 2011, Albany, Andrew Cuomo, Aqueduct Racetrack, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Bill Mahoney, Binghampton, campaign contribution, casino, coalition against gambling in new york, compact, constitutional amendment, convention center, Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, exclusivity, Gambling, gaming, Genting Berhad, Genting New York, Government, Jeff Gural, joel rose, Jon Lentz, lawmaker, legalize, Legislature, lobbyist, New York, New York City, Nichols, NYPIRG, political action committee, politics, Queens, racetrack casino, Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, Resorts World New York, Senate Republican Campaign Committee, Seneca Nation of Indians, Tim Rooney, Tioga Downs, Yonkers Raceway
Trackback from your site.