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NY Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Casinos

Ballot referendum would change the state's constitution to permit commercial casinos.

A lower court state judge in New York has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to halt a statewide ballot referendum to change the state's constitution to permit commercial, Las Vegas-style casinos around the state.

A Brooklyn lawyer commenced litigation last month seeking to at least change the wording of the referendum or to have the entire proposition stripped from the ballot because of what he said was an illegal attempt by state officials to make the ballot question sound more appealing to voters.

But Acting State Supreme Court Justice Richard Platkin said the lawsuit by Eric Snyder was filed too late and lacked merit. Snyder said he will immediately appeal the decision in a fast-track process in advance of the Nov. 5 elections.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's gambling plan calls for a change in the state constitution to permit up to seven commercial casinos; the first four are scheduled to be located in several upstate regions, including the Saratoga Springs area. If the referendum fails, Cuomo's legislation calls for four video lottery terminals to be built, with three going upstate and one in Nassau County. The law Cuomo signed this year also permitsno matter what happens with the referendumVLT facilities in Nassau and Suffolk counties, which will be run by county off-track betting corporations.

Snyder said the state elections board did not vote in public to approve the specific language for the casino plan that is going on the ballot, a claim the judge rejected. While Attorney General Eric Schneiderman proposed neutral-sounding language, the elections board, with the input from Cuomo's office, used more voter-appealing words by asking if residents would okay casinos "for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated.''

Platkin said Snyder's lawsuit was filed after a 14-day statute of limitations from the time the elections board adopted the ballot language in late July; Snyder had insisted the lawsuit was after that period because the state elections board did not notify the public on its website of the ballot language until weeks after the 14-day deadline came and went.

Snyder, a commercial bankruptcy lawyer with a Manhattan law firm, said he represented himself in the case after learning of the ballot language decision by the elections board. "Ignoring the attorney general's recommendation," Snyder said, "the Board of Elections changed the neutrally worded casino amendment by adding language to gain voter support.''

A recent poll by Siena College found that 46% of voters supported and 46% opposed the idea of casino expansion when a neutral question was asked. But when the language on the ballot was put to poll respondents, Siena found support rose to 56% and opposition dropped to 42%.

Cuomo's office had no comment on the judge's ruling.

A pro-casino group, New York Jobs Now, called the litigation a "needless distraction'' hours after the judge released his 13-page decision.

The New York Public Interest Research Group said it was "disappointed that the judge chose to block a legitimate discussion on the merits of whether the state gamed the language of the casino amendment to tilt New Yorkers to a yes vote.''

Supporters of the casino plan envision up to three of the first four new gambling halls going possibly to three harness tracks with existing VLT facilities: Monticello, Tioga Downs, and Saratoga.

The Genting Group failed in its bid to include its Aqueduct VLT casino as a possible site for a future full-blown casino with real slots and table games, though the legislation adopted this year prohibits, with some loopholes, any other casinos in New York City for the next seven years.

The enabling legislation that lawmakers approved to go along with the constitutional amendment change going before voters also calls to hold harmless the existing revenue streams at the state's nine racetrack-based casinos.