Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out a path for legalizing casino gambling during yesterday’s State of the State address, saying the state should start out with only three full-fledged casinos and for a new gaming commission to select locations in upstate New York.
“We propose a casino plan to boost upstate development,” Cuomo said, noting that New York City has 8.2 million residents and 50 million tourists a year. “I believe casinos in upstate New York could be a great magnet to bring the New York City traffic up. They now go to New Jersey, they go to Connecticut – why don’t we bring them to upstate New York?”
But several key lawmakers disagreed with various elements of the governor’s proposal, casting doubt on whether legalization will go forward on the governor’s terms.
The Legislature last year passed a constitutional amendment to legalize up to seven casinos in the state, and it would have to be passed again this year before going before voters in a referendum. One unanswered question is whether to allow a lucrative Las Vegas-style casino in New York City, though that could be off the table for the time being.
“It was a surprise to me that he’s limiting it to three at this stage,” said Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who chairs the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee. “I think that if we’re trying to maximize our revenue, you should look at doing all seven immediately, even if we don’t go into the building phase immediately, just go through the allocation phase and get that done.”
Sen. John Bonacic, the longtime chair of the Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee, said the governor’s plan is simply a proposal and that there is plenty left to negotiate. For example, he said, the Legislature should retain control over which counties get a casino and only then let the new gaming commission get involved.
“The constitutional amendment is a legislative prerogative, and it’s my thinking that we should identify all of the counties where a casino could go and then the gaming commission could review competitive bids of which could be the resort casino project,” Bonacic said. “And I think it should go hand in hand with the enacting legislation. What the governor is proposing is to do the constitutional amendment and at some point have the gaming commission at a later date approve casinos in counties where they designate, which the Legislature would lose control of that.”
The governor was vague about a possible casino in New York City in the future, drawing a mixed response from lawmakers. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a longtime casino opponent whose position on the issue has softened over the past year, responded favorably after the address and said that casinos should not be in “densely populated areas,” according to YNN’s Capital Tonight.
Yet keeping casinos out of New York City would prevent Genting’s popular Resorts World New York racino — which has slots but no table games — from submitting a bid to expand into a full-fledged casino. Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo, whose districts include Resorts World New York, both issued statements expressing disappointment about the governor’s plan.
Yet Cuomo was careful not to take New York City off the table entirely, referring to his upstate casino plan as “Phase One.”
“We propose, ‘Phase One,’ three casinos all in upstate New York,” the governor said. “No casinos in New York City, because the plan is to bring downstate New Yorkers to upstate.”
The governor also called for a revenue split of 90 percent of the funds for education and 10 percent for local property tax relief, and said that local governments should have a say in whether a casino is located in their jurisdictions.
“I have reason to believe the best casino companies in the country and the world will come into compete, but I believe we should keep the politics out of the decision and leave it to the gaming commission to pick the best on the merits,” Cuomo said.