New York Gaming Commission Taking Shape

More than a year after it was created by law, the New York Gaming Commission is getting closer to having board members in place who can fully run the new agency overseeing the horse racing, racino, lottery, casino and charitable gaming industries.

The agency, which formally came to life Feb. 1, has been run the past several months by Robert Williams, who was given special powers previously provided only to the board of directors of the previous agencythe state Racing and Wagering Boardwhich was folded into the new racing commission along with the state's now-defunct Lottery Division.

Lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration officials for months have said it has been unexpectedly difficult finding people to serve on the new board who could meet its membership's strict criteria, which included mandatory expertise in certain fields, such as law or finance, and banned people from the board if they any ties to any gambling entity in the past three years.

The governor over the weekend sent two names to the state Senate for confirmation, who, if okayed along with two prrevious individuals the governor nominated, would give the board enough members to get the body in place.

The governor's office and Senate officials declined to immediately provide the names of the two new nominees, but sources outside government said Cuomo is looking to appoint John Crotty, a member of a state panel that oversees the finances of the New York Racing Association, and Barry Sample, a widely respected, longtime state government official who has worked at a variety of agencies, including the state comptroller's office, budget division, criminal justice services and most recently for Cuomo in his state operations office. The sources cautioned that Cuomo could change his mind about the appointments because they had not yet been made public.

Cuomo earlier this year nominated John Poklemba, a lawyer who was the top criminal justice advisor to former Gov. Mario Cuomo, the current governor's father, and Todd Snyder, a financial sector executive in Manhattan. Neither has yet been confirmed by the Senate.

The Senate and Assembly have not named their two appointees to the seven-member racing commission; officials have said a number of possible choices either didn't want to take on the workloadfor a post that pays a $300 per diem on the days it holds board meetingsor couldn't get by the many outside employment or investment restrictions for service on the board.

The Cuomo administration, the day before the commission was legally activated, knew the trouble it faced filling the new board positions. On Jan. 31, hours before it went out of existence, the state Racing and Wagering Board bestowed upon Williams, the new racing commission's executive director, a number of powers that had previously been restricted to just the whole board.

Williams was not given authority to enact new regulations or to order the divestment of a track's ownership team. He was also not given the power to impose penalties on license holders following an appeal to an administrative hearing officer. (The agency has yet to appoint hearing officers so no such disciplinary actions could even occur anyway against, for instance, trainers or jockeys; stewards at tracks, though, can impose sanctions for violations and the penalties go in place unless they are appealed.)

But the former agency board did give Williams the power to approve continuation of expiring emergency rules. He can, and has, approved track license applications, along with applications for race date cancellations and simulcasting licenses. He has also approved capital improvements at tracks, a function that would often take up much the old racing board's regular meetings. He approved a new tote contract for NYRA and okayed track promotional requests. And he can approve which individuals can get licenses to participate in racing, casino, and lottery businesses. Williams also has far more powers given him that he has not used since he took over in February, including granting or denying racetrack ownership changes.

If tracks, casino, or lottery vendors are concerned about all that work being legally empowered to one individual instead of a full board, they have not publicly voiced any complaints.

The racing commission was approved in the spring of 2012 as part of the state budget process. It was originally supposed to have become active last Oct. 1, but that implementation date was moved back to Feb. 1 of this year to give Cuomo time to find his five board selections and the Legislature its two board appointees. Cuomo has said he wants the racing commission to be the body to approve casino development plans if lawmakers and voters statewide okay his plan to build seven new, non-Indian casinos. He recently changed that idea, and is now calling for a temporary panel of outside experts to be in charge of any casino selection process.

With Cuomo now apparently having settled on four names for the agency's board, the Senate could approve them as early as May 20, which is the next time the legislative body will be back in Albany.

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