NY Rolls Into Casino Business After Voter Approval

ALBANY (AP/Hamodia) -

Even before polls closed on what would be a resounding victory authorizing seven full-fledged casinos in New York, confident developers were making plans to announce specifics of the hotels and casinos they hoped to build in places like the Catskills.

Tuesday’s vote, which passed by a 57-43 percent margin, sets in motion a heated contest to select casino operators who will have a hand in selecting sites for the first four upstate casinos.

One would be in the Southern Tier near Binghamton, two in the Catskills and Mid-Hudson Valley region, and another in the Saratoga Springs-Albany area. A New York City casino would be built in seven years and possibly more could be built in the suburbs.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Gaming Commission will prepare requests for proposals from casino operators. Casino complexes will include hotels and other facilities to make them what Cuomo calls destination resorts. That process will take months and could be delayed further by lawsuits challenging the process

Cuomo hopes to use the casino plans as part of his 2014 reelection campaign to show he has addressed a major 2010 campaign promise to turn around the upstate economy.

“I think it’s a bad day in the social history of a proud state,” said Stephen Shafer of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York, one of the many grassroots organizations with little funding fighting against the pro-casino campaign. “I can’t be too gracious because it wasn’t a fair fight.

One of the groups, the Committee Against Proposition 1, said “everything about the process seemed rigged. Nevertheless, we accept that the people of New York have spoken; our focus will now be on how to mitigate the impact of casinos in the Catskills.”

Critics from progressive good-government groups to the state Conservative Party and the state’s Roman Catholic bishops also warned that the governor’s economic projections were inflated and the social cost to families and communities would be profound.

Cuomo framed the referendum not as a question on gambling, but as a way to capture what he said is $1.2 billion a year in current gambling revenue that New Yorkers now spend at casinos elsewhere, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Canada.

Cuomo’s budget office says the state would take in $430 million in new casino revenue, with $238 million for education, in a repeat of the strategy that approved lottery games. The rest would go to communities near casinos to compensate for public safety and social costs and for tax reduction.

Great concern was expressed by the Jewish community.  A kol korei signed by prominent Rabbanim last week urged voters to reject the amendment, citing the social toll gambling places on society. They were especially concerned since some of the new casinos were to be built in the Catskills, a region which hosts tens of thousands of Orthodox families and dozens of summer camps each summer.

Jewish activists familiar with the case told Hamodia, “we hope that we could work with the governor towards an understanding on an issue which is of great concern to our community.”