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news albany bureau chief

ALBANY – A pro-casino group has released its first series of television ads, trying to persuade voters to go along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to permit developers to build up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos.

NY Jobs Now, which is close to Cuomo and gets its funding from business, labor and casino interests, has begun airing two ads downstate with the claim that the casino plan should be approved “for new jobs and revenue, for better schools."

“Now, that’s something all New Yorkers can agree on," the ad concludes.

Critics have dismissed those claims as overstated and for ignoring the social problems the casinos will bring.

One ad targeting New York City resident begins by noting both candidates for New York City mayor – Democrat Bill de Blasio and Republican Joe Lhota – support the bill. The second ad targets Long Island voters and makes the same pro-casino claim on behalf of Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republican Ed Mangano, who are running against each other in the Nassau County executive’s race.

The pro-casino organization’s members include labor groups, such as the state AFL-CIO, and businesses, including the Business Council of New York State. Several politicians, including Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, are also members. While companies looking to become casino developers if the referendum passes were not on the group’s original list of backers, sources say they have helped to fund the ad campaign. The group has worked with the Cuomo administration on its plans.

The group declined to divulge how much it is spending on the ad campaigns, but one member of the group estimated several days ago the initial downstate campaign will be a moderate one costing in the neighborhood of $1 million. The group has raised at least $2 million, members say. Precise details about some of its money raising and spending won’t be known until next week, when campaign disclosure reports involved in the November 5 elections are due to the state Board of Elections.

Casino opponents have said they do not have any money to run an ad campaign to reach voters. But they dismissed Cuomo’s revenue estimate claims for what the casinos will bring New York state, public schools and localities and say the pro-casino side ignores the rise in gambling addiction that will come by adding seven new casinos.

Cuomo has been taking an extremely quiet stance in the months leading up to the November 5 statewide ballot casino proposal, especially after he made it a major public issue the past two years.

One theory is that the less the supporters talk, the less the media will cover the issue – including casinos’ potential warts. Another theory, expressed a couple weeks ago by a downstate legislator in a Buffalo News story, is that Cuomo wants some separation from the plan in case it fails.

Cuomo this week dismissed that.

“But I am linked to it. It’s my proposal. You can’t be any more linked to it than I am. It’s my idea," he said in Manhattan this week.

In Albany Wednesday, he made a brief pitch for the casino expansion, but only when asked by a reporter to do so. He repeated his stance that New York already has casinos and that his plan would lead to better regulation, more revenues and would create jobs upstate where the first four casinos are scheduled to be built if the referendum passes.

Cuomo earlier this week said the campaign to get the ballot approved is not like the public push he made to convince lawmakers to go along with the gambling expansion.

“This is an electoral effort where people will vote. This is about television commercials. This is about direct mailings, and that’s how this campaign is going to be run and won or lost, so that’s what I’m spending my time on,’’ he said.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com