ALBANY – New York voters on Tuesday approved the state’s largest-ever expansion of casino gambling, believing a promise by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that the new betting halls will bring jobs to upstate and hundreds of millions of tax dollars a year to the state and local municipalities.
Helped by a last-minute rush of $4 million from casino companies and unions to fund TV ads and mailings, passage of Proposition One will change the wording of the state constitution’s long-time ban on commercial casino gambling and permit the state to award up to seven licenses for what Cuomo says will be destination-style casinos.
“What a great day for the Hudson Valley and Catskills region. And it’s a day people have been waiting for here for 30 years,” said Michael Treanor, one of the investors in the Nevele hotel, a shuttered, historic Catskills resort that will now be among several in the running for the initial four of the seven casino licenses.
Critics say New York, already home to 15 casinos at tracks and Indian reservations, will come to learn the lessons of other states that so dramatically expanded gambling within their borders. “It continues what I call the addiction of government to predatory gambling as a revenue source,” said Stephen Shafer, chairman of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York.
Incomplete results showed the casino measure winning with support from a majority of voters in New York City and on Long Island, where casino forces and Cuomo allies focused their campaign efforts, but facing some roadblocks with voters in Erie County and some other upstate counties.
The plan would allow up to seven casinos statewide, though none in Western New York and two other upstate areas under a deal Cuomo struck this year with Indian tribes running existing casinos.
In less-closely watched statewide ballot propositions, a measure permitting a land swap between the state and a mining company in the constitutionally protected Adirondack forest preserve was approved, though a plan to increase to 80 the retirement age for some state judges was heading to defeat, if preliminary results hold.
Also passing were a proposal giving disabled veterans additional credits on civil service exams, resolution of a century-old land title dispute between the state and a couple hundred landowners in an Adirondacks town, and authority for municipalities to break debt ceilings to pay for sewer construction programs.
Cuomo called the casino vote a big victory for schools, local governments, taxpayers and job-creation efforts.
Casino expansion has became a signature policy issue for Cuomo. Backers expressed confidence in recent weeks because of low voter turnout in this off-year election season and a severely underfunded and unorganized effort by gambling critics.
Detractors had trouble getting major financial support from groups that might otherwise assist, because New York – whether the referendum passed or not – will still get four additional casinos, thanks to a “no-lose” clause Cuomo put into the casino measure during talks last spring with lawmakers.
“I think it was a very important question to air for the people of this state because the truth is, we do have casinos” already, Cuomo said of Proposition One after voting Tuesday morning near his Westchester County home.
Cuomo loyalists saw Tuesday’s casino referendum campaign as a chance to do a practice run for the governor’s re-election bid next year, and unions became a major part of the effort to raise campaign cash and get voters to the polls.