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Governor Cuomo Outlined Upstate Casinos Plans

Pat Arnow

New York Governor Cuomo outlined the details of his plan to site three gambling casinos upstate.

Cuomo, joined by union and business leaders, and representatives from county governments, offered more details of a plan to build three new gambling casinos. Cuomo says he wants to limit the locations to upstate regions for now, to prop up the failing economy.  The governor says upstate needs jobs like it needs “oxygen.” And he says having a downstate location would devalue the upstate centers.

“I believe that a New York City franchise would eat at the buffet table of the upstate casinos, so to speak,” Cuomo said.

It may end up, though, that New York City voters may be the ones who decide whether the entire casino plan will go forward. In order to change the state’s constitution, the amendment needs the approval of two consecutively elected state legislatures, and then must go before the voters.  If the proposal wins second passage in the legislature, it could be on November’s ballot. This fall, the biggest races, which will attract the majority of voters, are for New York City mayor and for county executives on Long Island. Cuomo had initially said he might wait until 2014 to put the measure on the ballot, when statewide races will generate bigger turn out upstate.

Now the governor says he believes he could sell downstate voters on the idea, once he explains revenues generated from the casinos would mean more money for schools.

“A big piece of the state’s education aid goes to New York City,” Cuomo said. “So if you’re interested in more funding for education in New York City, this is a proposal that you would be interested in.”

Cuomo now says he wants to set up a temporary commission to site the casinos and choose vendors, and he said he could appoint all the members himself, without any input from the legislature.

“We do not want a politically determined outcome,” Cuomo said.

Legislative leaders have not yet signed on to all of the details of the governor’s plan. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos has said he’d like to site one of the casinos downstate. Both the Assembly and Senate want more power over choosing the exact sites for the casinos and selecting the vendors to run the gambling centers.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said recently that, at the very least, voters will need to know where exactly the casinos will be located, before they are asked to vote on a proposal.

“We don’t believe you can pass an amendment and just say to the public, ‘Trust us,’” Silver said.  

Cuomo has divided upstate into six regions: Western New York, the Southern Tier, Central New York, the North Country, Capital Region, and Hudson Valley.

He says three will ultimately be chosen. There’s one complication, though.  Indian tribes operate casinos in three of the regions.  But the Senecas, Oneidas and Mohawks have on-going disputes with the state, and some are withholding revenue from the casino profits that was earmarked for surrounding local governments.

Cuomo says if the tribes won’t settle their differences with the state by the end of the legislative session, he may propose siting competing casinos next to the tribal ones.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.