ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders met for the first time Wednesday to discuss plans to dramatically expand casino gambling in New York but came away in agreement that there is still much work ahead.
The sides did tentatively resolve some issues, including agreeing that a new state gambling commission will select developers if new casinos are permitted and vowing that voters will know ahead of any statewide referendum, possibly this fall, what counties will be eligible for at least the first phase of any new Las Vegas-style gambling halls. But when asked for other specifics, lawmakers and Cuomo were mum.
“ ‘Evolving’ is the word of the day if you haven’t noticed,” Cuomo told reporters as he sat alongside three legislative leaders following a 90-minute meeting in his Capitol office.
A decision on where precisely any new casinos might be located is weeks or months away, though the sides mostly seem to agree that the Catskills – once a major resort destination that has fallen on hard times in recent decades – is in the running.
Whether Western New York will be eligible remains uncertain because the Seneca Nation and the state have an 11-year-old compact giving the tribe exclusive rights to operate casino gambling in a huge portion of the region stretching some 100 miles from Buffalo to Route 14 east of Rochester and from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania line. Cuomo has suggested the state will honor that compact, but that could depend on the outcome of the years-old dispute, now in arbitration, that has seen the Seneca Nation withhold more than $500 million in casino revenue-sharing payments to Albany for what it claims has been a breach of that compact.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said last week he wanted lawmakers involved in picking casino development sites and that the decisions not be solely left to the Cuomo administration’s new gambling commission. On Wednesday, he seemed comfortable letting the commission, which comes to life this Friday, pick the actual developers, so long as legislation that lawmakers are expected to consider this spring is specific about county locations for the sites.
Cuomo has proposed a first phase of three casinos be located upstate. Voters could be asked this fall to consider a total of seven casinos. But Senate co-leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, said he wants a racetrack in Nassau County to be considered, as well.
Silver said the casinos should go into areas “that are depressed, in resort areas and [that] will make the state a lot of money.”
Cuomo said the plan will be one of his administration’s major ideas this year for improving parts of the upstate economy. “We’re not just looking for a casino. We want a resort destination. We want a regional tourist attraction. We want to create jobs,” he said.