A lawyer with a long racing and gambling regulatory background will become the top executive of the New York State Gaming Commission, a new agency that legally comes to life Feb. 1 to oversee all gambling-related industries in the state.
Robert Williams, the state's current Lottery Division director, will assume the title of acting director of the gaming agency later in the week of Jan. 27, sources told The Blood-Horse Jan. 29.
The agency's seven-member board of directors will not be in place when the agency's lights are officially turned on Feb. 1. However, sources familiar with the consolidation of the state's two major gambling-related regulatory agencies into one unit said the process has been completed, and that Williams' appointment will permit the agency to carry out its official functions: regulating all racetracks, racetrack casinos, Indian casinos, lottery games, and charitable gambling.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who chooses five of the seven agency commissioners, has selected two representatives, sources told The Blood-Horse. John Poklemba, a lawyer who served as the state's top criminal justice official during the administration of Gov. Mario Cuomo, the current governor's father, and Todd Snyder, executive vice chairman of North American Global Financial Advisory and co-chairman of the debt and restructuring group at investment and financial services company Rothschild Inc., are the first two nominees Cuomo will send to the Senate for confirmation.
The Assembly and Senate have yet to reveal the two commissioner selections lawmakers get to make to the new agency that combines the work of the state Lottery Division and the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.
The Senate Jan. 29 adjourned for the week and won't be back to the Capitol for a week, meaning no nominees could be confirmed until at least then.
The Gaming Commission was created last year as a way to centralize all of the state's gambling-related regulatory activities. It is also the agency that Cuomo has proposed should have the power to select the developers and locations for up to seven new casinos if the legislature and voters approve the gambling expansion plan this year.
It was to become active last year, but officials had trouble finding people to volunteer for the panel that pays a $300 per diem—expected to be once or twice a month.
After a fellowship and racing subcommittee counsel job in the New York State Senate, Williams was a lawyer at the NYSRWB and he ran the agency division that regulated Indian casinos in the state. He has also been a special assistant counsel to Cuomo on Indian gambling and broader gambling issues.
His job with Cuomo has also included chairing the Franchise Oversight Board, which monitors the finances of the New York Racing Association. He was also the executive director for two years until 2007 of the New York State Committee on the Future of Racing.
Poklemba's career has stretched from running the vast criminal justice programs of New York to private law practice. A graduate of St. John's University law school, Poklemba has served as head of a gubernatorial judicial screening panel and currently is the general counsel to the American Transit Insurance Co. in Brooklyn.
Snyder brings a vast financial background to the agency, and it will be tapped if Cuomo is successful in his quest to have the Gaming Commission run the casino selection process. (Lawmakers last year approved the first of two required resolutions to amend the state constitution to permit up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos in New York; it must act again this year if voters are to consider the matter in a statewide referendum this fall.)
Snyder has been involved in various mergers, restructurings, and finance deals, and has advised companies ranging from United Airlines, Dow Corning, and Emerald Casino to various banks and manufacturing companies. He was an adviser to the Bush and Obama administrations and was co-lead negotiator for Cuomo in reaching new contract deals with the state's public sector unions.
The selection of Williams will have to be confirmed by the Senate. The law creating the agency said commissioners must have public or private sector business administration background and have a background in such areas as either finance, law or law enforcement, or racing. But the law also bans the appointment of anyone with any ties to a gambling-related entity in the three years prior to his or her confirmation to the board.