ALBANY – New York voters will be asked this fall to approve a change in the State Constitution legalizing up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos that backers say will bring destination resorts to economically battered upstate areas.
The casino agreement by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders, due to be adopted by lawmakers by Friday, calls for no new casinos in Western New York as a bow to last week’s deal between the state and Seneca Nation resolving a bitter, $600 million dispute over casino revenue-sharing payments by the tribe.
The casino measure, one of the greatest gambling expansions in state history, was among the major deals embraced Wednesday by Cuomo and lawmakers as the 2013 legislative session nears its end.
In an appearance with reporters, Cuomo praised, criticized and threatened the Legislature. Still unresolved, and all but dead, is a proposal Cuomo says is aimed at fighting corruption in Albany, a package that includes taxpayer financing of campaigns, new bribery prosecution powers and stronger enforcement of election spending and fundraising laws.
He said Wednesday he will appoint a special panel with strong investigative powers to look at the state Board of Elections and campaign finance issues; it could be a backdoor way of probing the Legislature since the panel Cuomo could appoint can’t directly, without authorization from the attorney general, investigate the separate legislative branch.
Cuomo also is pressing the State Senate to bring to the floor for a vote a measure he says puts into state law a woman’s right to an abortion if the federal Roe v. Wade case is ever overturned. He dismissed as a “distortion’’ critics, including the Catholic Church, who say the plan expands late-term abortion access in the state.
While he has said the measure is important, Cuomo has also said it will have no practical impact in the immediate term but sees the bill as a litmus test for lawmakers, especially Republican senators, to publicly state their positions on abortion. Senate co-leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, has said the bill expands abortion procedures in a state already home to the nation’s largest number of abortions.
The casino measure authorizes up to seven casinos – with real slot machines and table games like poker. Only the first four locations would be generally identified: the Albany area, eastern Southern Tier and Hudson Valley, including the Catskills. The remaining three casinos could go downstate, but not New York City, and not for at least seven years under Wednesday’s deal.
Long Island would get two video lottery terminal operations similar to, though smaller than, the track-based facility at Hamburg. And three upstate areas, though not Western New York, would get VLT parlors if the November referendum fails.
The bill seeks to ensure some order of protection for tracks and existing racinos in the state by a complex series of tax breaks, revenue-sharing formula changes and having the state levy a tax rate on new casinos at about the same rate as track-based racinos if they locate in a region with a racino.
The only direct connection the casino bill has for Western New York is a sweetener to try to lure supporters for the November vote. If the referendum passes, the state would lower the share it now gets from Seneca Nation casino revenue-sharing payments and provide a first-ever payment to all counties in the region; currently, Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca get the vast majority of the local revenue-sharing funds under the terms of a 2002 casino compact.
The Coalition Against Gambling in New York, a statewide group based in Buffalo, warned Wednesday the expansion will create new gambling addicts, increase crime rates, and will not lead to an economic boom for upstate.