New York's agency that regulates the racing, casino, and lottery industries had its nomination to head the state gaming commission sail through the state Senate March 4, a confirmation move that paves the way for the formal appointment next week of a siting panel to recommend the first batch of new commercial casinos in the state.
Mark D. Gearan, president since 1999 of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva in upstate New York, acknowledged he has no background in any aspects of the industries his new state agency job regulates.
In an appearance before the Senate racing committee and finance committee, Gearan was not asked and did not offer any commentary about the condition of the racing industry in New York nor any plans his agency might have for the industry. He was nominated for the job by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
In an interview after his Senate racing committee appearance, Gearan did not answer if he'd ever been to a racetrack.
"I don't think anyone is under any misconception that Gov. Cuomo did not reach to Geneva, New York for a gaming expert, but I appreciate the vitality of the industry, the importance of it to individuals and to families," Gearan said of the overall gambling industry in New York state.
Gearan, 57, said he anticipates his new agency's board will hold a meeting next week to formally appoint three of five members to a panel that will recommend where an initial four casinos—and who will operate them—will be located. Voters last November OK'd a change to the state constitution permitting up to seven new non-Indian, commercial casinos in the state; a separate state law calls for the first four being located in three upstate areas.
Gearan said he expects the timetable outlined by Cuomo—with a request for application going out to potential casino developers by the end of the month—to be followed by his agency. Cuomo said winners will be selected later this fall.
Gearan is a former adviser in the Clinton White House, and he was director of the Peace Corps.
Sen. John Bonacic, a Republican who heads the Senate racing and gaming committee, said a background in the industry is not needed for the chairman's job at the gaming commission.
"What's needed for this job is qualities of integrity, honesty, management skills, and good character. And, of course, there will be a learning curve. It's not going to take him long to be up to speed on everything,'' Bonacic said of Gearan.
The casino siting panel's recommendations are non-binding, and it will be Gearan and his board that will have the final official say where casinos are located. He said a community's support and the economic development potential will be key considerations for casino bids--factors that are outlined in the gambling expansion law that passed last year.
Asked by a lawmaker if Genting's Aqueduct facility could become a full-blown casino anytime soon with real slots and table games, Gearan said, "I do not want to hazard a prediction.'' But he noted the state's casino law envisions the first four casinos upstate; it also, with some loopholes, is supposed to block any casinos in New York City for the next seven years.
Asked by another lawmaker why he wants the job, which offers no pay and will have to eat into his day job as a college president, Gearan said it fulfills a long public service commitment he has had to government. "I think these are important issues for the state. I pledge to bring integrity to the process and transparency to the process," Gearan said.
The gaming commission has broad authority over racetrack operations and licenses individuals from jockeys to trainers, as well as conducts disciplinary cases. It runs the state's lottery system, regulates track-based casinos, as well as has some oversight responsibilities of Indian-owned casinos. It also regulates charitable gambling operations.