NEW YORK (AP) — Opponents and supporters of a ballot issue to expand casino gambling in New York state were hoping to swell their ranks Thursday, just days out from the election when voters will make the final decision.
Opponents planned to launch an outreach campaign to voters, with leaflets and ads on radio and television, in advance of Tuesday's election. They said casinos wouldn't bring the economic benefits supporters are touting, and they criticized the language on the ballot used to describe the proposed constitutional amendment.
According to the ballot, the amendment would allow the creation of up to seven casinos "for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated."
Democratic state Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan said the description was "written in such a way as to incorrectly bias the voter toward voting yes and is not a completely truthful and accurate statement." She said that having more casinos would also bring more social ills, including gambling addiction.
In an unusual political pairing, Krueger and state Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long are joined in opposing the ballot issue.
But a judge earlier this month dismissed a legal challenge to the rewording of the referendum, saying the lawsuit was filed too late and lacked legal merit.
Leading a coalition of labor and small business representatives, Assemblyman Keith Wright, who co-chairs the state Democratic Party, said Thursday that building up to four casinos in upstate New York would bring more than $94 million a year to New York City schools and $83 million to the suburbs.
Expanded gambling would revive beleaguered upstate economies and create 10,000 new jobs around the state, Wright said at a news conference at the United Federation of Teachers headquarters in Manhattan.
"Upstate economies are dying, they are dying," Wright said.
New York already has five Las Vegas-style casinos on Indian land that have table games like blackjack and roulette and video slot machines. Three are in western New York, one in central New York, and one in northern New York near the Canadian border. The state also has nine so-called Racinos at racetracks around the state that have electronic slot machines, including the Aqueduct thoroughbred track in Queens.
Asked whether new casinos would bring new problems with gambling addiction, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the new casinos would simply keep in state those New Yorkers who are currently spending $1.2 billion a year gambling out of state and they would bring sorely needed education money.
With the new teacher evaluation system kicking in, as well as revamped academic standards, "they're asking the schools and the children to do more than ever before," Mulgrew said. "And this is the best way possible, right now at this moment, to start infusing the money that is needed at these schools."
Campaign finance filings show the New York Jobs Now Committee, a pro-casino lobbying group, last week reported receiving more than $2 million in contributions, including $500,000 each from Yonkers Racing Corp. and Genting New York, and $250,000 each from Saratoga Harness Racing Inc. and American Racing & Entertainment, as well as $125,000 from both the United Federation of Teachers and its UFT Solidarity Fund.
Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen is Albany contributed to this report.