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Voters asked to go 'all-in' on prop one

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, at podium, is joined by, from left, President and CEO of The Business Council of New York State Heather Briccetti; President of the Greater Capital Region Building and Construction Trades Council Jeff Stark; Albany County Executive Dan McCoy; and Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes, speaking at a press conference last week touting the economic benefits of approving statewide gambling. Photo by Kelly Fay.
October 15, 2013
With the vote on proposal number one less than a month away, the public is being bombarded with messages from either side of the gambling issue to influence the vote for or against the controversial measure.

The ballot question will ask voters to approve construction of several non-Indian casinos with full table gaming to built upstate in the near future.

Groups such as The Business Council of New York State see the referendum as an opportunity to create jobs in New York and bring revenue back to state.

"New Yorkers spend more than $1.2 billion a year at destination casinos in other states. It's about time we bring that kind of money home to create jobs, support schools and take property tax pressure off towns and cities," Business Council of New York State President and CEO Heather Briccetti said.

Briccetti sees gambling in New York as something that is happening already and something New Yorkers should reap the benefits of.

"We've got gambling in New York," Briccetti said. "We've got charitable gambling, we've got Native American casinos up and operating. Really, we have a constitutional restriction and it's basically like we're doing it already, but our shoes are tied together. So, let's untie the shoes and let's just go ahead and move forward."

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings is in support of the measure calling it a "no brainer."

"In the Capital Region these funds will total $35.5 million annually including more than $11 million to support the host communities. Albany County will see more than $6 million of this every year and the city of Albany itself more than $945 thousand for schools and property tax relief," Jennings said.

Jennings says allowing gambling in New York is a step in the right direction.

"This is a street we want to go down that's going to generate revenue Ö and strategically place these casinos so it benefits the state the way it's intended to," Jennings said.

A lawsuit filed against the state Board of Elections by Brooklyn attorney Eric Snyder claims the language of the ballot is unfair and will sway voters toward approving proposal one by highlighting the positive aspects of the measure.

The language on the ballot states the measure is for "the legislative purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated."

"I disagree with the assertion that this is a rosy picture. I think [the ballot] says what the purpose of the amendment is for and what it will be used for," Briccetti said.

The New York Public Interest Research Group has taken up Snyder's cause and filed an amicus brief in the state Supreme Court where the challenge was being argued as of press time.

"We are deeply troubled by the ballot question and abstract language that was certified by the state Board of Elections, Language that seems to go beyond explanatory or descriptive and trespass into advocacy," NYPIRG's brief states. It was written by NYPIRG's Legislative Director Blair Horner and Counsel Russ Haven and filed last Thursday. "The language recites many of the predicted benefits of approval advanced by casino boosters. Yet neither the ballot question nor the abstract language refer to what critics predict are the likely down sides of approving the proposal. The language appears to be worded in a way that would incline a neutral voter to vote 'yes.'"

Meanwhile, the Coalition Against Gambling in New York is calling voters' attention to a recent claim by the Division of Budget projecting a $430 million annual benefit from the taxes on new casinos.

"We're trying to draw taxpayers' attention to the fact that $430 million worth of property tax relief and aid to education with 15 million adults in New York state, that's less than $30 a person," said Dave Colavito, a member of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York.

The group also notes no amendment is required to allow video lottery terminals and Indian casinos, which already exist, but the revenues from those pre-existing revenue sources were included in the $430 million promised by the administration. The Coalition Against Gambling in New York believes the numbers were included to sway voters toward approving the amendment.

Pro-gambling interests have been trying to ensure the amendment is passed by giving money to politicians associated with drafting the legislation required for the amendment. In a report released by government watchdog Common Cause/NY, the group found that from 2005 to 2012, gambling and horse racing interests spent more than $52 million on campaign contributions.

"New York's lax campaign finance laws make it possible for high rollers, like the gambling industry, to dictate public policy. The problem is that the rules of the game are stacked against average voters and the house always wins," said Executive Director of Common Cause/NY Susan Lerner. "We need campaign finance reform now to ensure that politicians are accountable to the people, not the highest pay-out."

The report showed the top three recipients of money from the gambling industry were the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee with $414,750; the Senate Republican Campaign Committee with $403,750; and Andrew Cuomo 2014 with $361,500.

Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon, chair of the Racing and Wagering Committee for over a decade, received more than $64,000 from gambling interests in the last two and a half years.

According to Common Cause/NY, the industry spending is clearly related to preferred policy outcomes.

Voting for proposal one will take place on Nov. 5.

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