Downstate racinos such as Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens would not be authorized to become Vegas-style casinos under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed plan which would limit casino expansion to upstate New York. Photo by AP.
June 10, 2013Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for the authorization of three Vegas-style upstate New York casinos as part of the Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act he unveiled last Wednesday.
The legislation limits these three 21-and-over, non-smoking casinos to the upstate New York area. Under his plan, upstate New York is broken up into six regions: the Hudson Valley-Catskill area; the Capital District-Saratoga area; the North Country; Central New York; the Eastern Southern Tier and Western New York.
According to a June 6 Quinnipiac University poll, New Yorkers are in support of legalizing Vegas-style casinos 51 to 39 percent, but at the same time, oppose casinos in the city or town they live in by 55 to 41 percent.
A board or commission would be created to evaluate the locations of each casino application on three specific criteria: local impact and support, workforce and societal factors and economic activity to find the most economically promising locations while not jeopardizing the well-being of the community, the governor said.
The three casinos selected will give to the state a minimum of $50 million in licensing fees along with 25 percent of their gross gaming revenue. Eighty percent of the tax revenue would be used to fund elementary and secondary education across the state. Ten percent would be split evenly between the county and municipality where the casino is situated, and the final 10 percent would be split between the remaining counties in the host region.
Due to geographic exclusivity clauses in the recent agreements with the Oneida and Mohawk nations, casinos will not be authorized in either the North Country or Central New York regions. The legislation allots 10 percent of the gaming revenue collected by the state from Native American gaming facilities to the counties within the respective geographic exclusivity zones.
The geographic exclusivity clauses do not authorize casinos in ten of the twelve counties that make up Adirondack Park.
Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway expressed his gratitude to Gov. Cuomo for keeping casinos out of Adirondacks. "Casinos would be a poor match for the Adirondack Park," Janeway said. "Park residents and business owners have made a conscious effort to establish the Adirondacks as a destination for family-friendly, outdoor recreation-oriented, tourism and entertainment — coupled with sustainable natural resource management. The governor's actions recognize and honor that commitment."
In addition to the three Vegas-style casinos, the legislation allows two additional video lottery terminals to be authorized in Western New York if the current agreement with the Seneca Nation remains in poor standing.
Gov. Cuomo stands firm on prohibiting downstate counties from housing a casino for a minimum of five years following the opening of the first upstate casino.
No casinos will be authorized in New York City, a change from Cuomo's original plan allotting the same five-year buffer to the five boroughs.
Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, chair of the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering supports many parts of Gov. Cuomo's plan, but has concerns about it being defeated if the proposal is sent to voters as is.
The main concern Bonacic expressed with the plan is the lack of transparency in the process of placing the casinos. "The governor calls this an upstate economic development act. I do believe he wants jobs upstate. I am concerned, however, that his desired jobs will not materialize unless there is broader transparency and more specificity as to where all of the proposed casinos will go," Bonacic said.
Sen. Bonacic also supports converting the Aqueduct VLT racino in Queens to a full casino instead of placing one on Long Island once the five-year moratorium on potential downstate casinos has passed.
"I have seen no evidence that Long Islanders, who are a sizable portion of the state's population, want casino gaming on Long Island," Bonacic said. "Long Islanders and New York City residents are open to gaming in Queens, as the success of the Aqueduct VLT casino has shown."
Last Thursday on Capital Pressroom, an Albany radio station hosted by Susan Arbetter, Cuomo said this legislation enacts "no major change" for New Yorkers due to the amount of de-facto gambling that already exists throughout the state in racetrack-casinos and VLTs, as well as the several Native American run casinos across the state.
Opponents of Governor Cuomo's plan such as the Coalition Against Gambling in New York worry that the casinos will exacerbate New York's pathological gambling problem (see story on page 7). In response to those concerns, Gov. Cuomo's legislation includes specific points to combat problem gambling.
There will be a $500 annual fee on each slot machine and table game in the casino and that money will be used to fund programs aimed at curbing gambling addiction. Potential casinos will also have to develop their own gambling programs; the quality of these programs will be a factor in determining the locations of the three casinos.