ALBANY – A new pro-casino group is asking business, labor and casino interests to help raise as much as $5 million to fund a campaign to persuade voters to approve up to seven new casinos in next month’s statewide referendum, individuals close to the group say.
Word of the infusion of cash to campaign for the casino expansion comes as the head of the state AFL-CIO told The Buffalo News on Thursday that the 2 million-member union is planning a full-scale effort leading up to Election Day to get the constitutional amendment proposal approved.
Mario Cilento, president of the umbrella union organization of hundreds of local unions across the state, said the union will unleash a politically potent get-out-the-vote effort that will include phone-banking operations, workplace fliers, mailings and volunteers at poll sites for the Nov. 5 vote.
“What we bring as a statewide labor organization is get-out-the-vote efforts,” Cilento said, adding that unions are supportive of a casino plan he says will create 17,000 temporary construction jobs and 7,000 permanent jobs.
On Tuesday, Cilento’s name surfaced as one of the members of a new group, NY Jobs Now, formed to campaign for the casino plan. The group is being ostensibly run out of the Albany offices of the Business Council of New York State. Three weeks ago, a political action committee by the same name, NY Jobs Now, filed an organizational statement with the state Elections Board.
The board’s key members, a gathering of union and business interests, are all allies of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who is author of the casino expansion plan.
The group has been mum about its specific plans, but individuals close to the organization, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said its publicly named members have been asked to contribute $2 million to $2.5 million to help fund an advertising campaign and get-out-the-vote efforts leading up to the referendum. Casino developers, including those based from New York to Las Vegas to Malaysia, have been asked to donate at least another $2 million to the group, according to sources.
It isn’t known how much the various casino companies might spend on their own efforts; that information will not be made public until well after the vote. Last month, in a private meeting of casino developers, executives talked of as much as $20 million possibly being needed if private polling suggested the casino plan was in trouble. But individuals involved in the talks said few expected it would end up costing anywhere near that level to run a pro-casino campaign.
In the past 30 days, at least five new political action committees have been created to help push the measure, according to reports filed with the state Elections Board. None has disclosed any spending yet to the elections agency. The groups include the NY Jobs Now group, as well as casino interests hoping to develop gambling facilities from the Catskills to the Southern Tier near Binghamton.
Anti-casino groups, meanwhile, say they expect to spend little trying to defeat the proposal. If the measure fails, the Cuomo administration said it will still move ahead to let casino operators open four facilities featuring just video lottery terminals, which are devices that look, sound and play like slot machines.
The industry push comes as the Cuomo administration has been slowly rolling out a campaign for the governor’s casino plan. The administration Wednesday released its estimates for how $430 million in annual casino revenues would be spread around the state for school and local government funding.
Depending on how pollsters ask the question, recent polls have shown the referendum’s chances as being close or with a healthy lead.
The new group’s members also include Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown; the mayor was not immediately available for comment Thursday. Buffalo, and all of Western New York, is prohibited from any new casino development if the referendum passes, because of the deal Cuomo struck earlier this year with the Seneca Nation of Indians to preserve the tribe’s existing gambling exclusivity rights in the region.