NY Gaming Commision Head Nearly Confirmed

The New York state Senate will question Mark Gearan March 4.

The New York state Senate next week is poised to confirm Gov. Andrew Cuomo's choice for the new head of the state Gaming Commission, the powerful regulatory agency that oversees everything from racetrack and casino operations to the state lottery to charitable bingo operations.

The Senate Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee is scheduled March 4 to question Mark Gearan, the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, before sending his nomination to head the agency later that day to the full Senate floor for confirmation.

Gearan, a White House advisor to former President Bill Clinton who also ran the Peace Corps, has little in the way of background when it comes to regulating the state's sprawling gambling industry.

Confirmation of Gearan, which is expected, will permit an important clock to start ticking for Cuomo that will lead to the selection later this year of up to four new commercial casino licenses in the state.

Once confirmed, Gearan, as soon as next week, is expected to call a Gaming Commission board meeting at which the members will approve three individuals the Cuomo administration recently recommended to serve on a panel to tap locations and developers for the casino projects.

That casino siting panel, whose work will be non-binding on the full Gaming Commission, is supposed to have five members. The gaming commission recently recommended the first three membersformer state budget director Paul Francis, former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, and Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitzthat the commission, with Gearan then in charge, is expected to formally approve next week.

The approval by the agency of the three siting board members is enough to kick in a provision in law that states the casino siting process can formally begin once a majority of the panel's members are approved.

The panel then has 90 days to issue a request for application for developers interested in one of the casino projects. But Cuomo has already indicated he expects the bidding document to be sent out by the end of March with winners being selected later this summer and construction underway at some sites by the fall.

Voters statewide last November approved a referendum amending the state constitution to permit up to seven commercial casinos. Unlike track-based VLT casinos, the new facilities can have real slots and table games, and Cuomo wants them to be "destination'' resorts with hotels and other amenities.

The first round of casino developments can occur in three areas of the state: Albany/Saratoga Springs region, the southern tier near Binghamton going north toward a small area east of Rochester, and the Catskills/Mid-Hudson Valley area.