New York Gaming Commission Has First Meeting

Four-member panel, appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to oversee horse racing matters.

It was created more than a year ago, saw its start-up date delayed when officials could not attract people to serve on its board, and came to legal life five months ago.

But on June 26, New York state Gaming Commission held the inaugural meeting of its new board; or at least part of it, as the four-member panel assumed the legal authority over an agency with strong regulatory oversight abilities over the racing industry, lottery games, and casinos in the state.

The four members, all appointees of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, made no major decisions at the first meeting, which was held in Manhattan. Instead, the relatively brief sessioncompared to gatherings of the former Racing and Wagering Boardtook up mostly ministerial matters, such as adopting a mission statement for the agency and approving some lottery game changes.

While the panel is unpaid except a $300 per diem, its workload is expected to increase in the coming year if voters approve a proposal backed by lawmakers and Cuomo to add up to seven new commercial casinos in the state. The Gaming Commission will be the lead agency involved in regulating and developing guidelines with a site selection panel to locate the casinos and operators if a November casino expansion referendum is approved.

The board still is missing three members; one is still to be appointed by the governor and two by the Legislature. Officials and lawmakers have lamented the difficulty in finding people to take on the job given the lack of pay, potential workload, and restrictions on who can serve on the board. A commission chair of the board has not been selected, though board member Todd Snyder was named as presiding officer over the first meeting.

The agency, which came to life Feb. 1 and has had major decisions made since then by an acting executive director, Robert Williams, has jurisdiction over all aspects of racing, from equine drug testing to licensing of jockeys and trainers. It regulates casinos, including track-based racinos and Indian-owned facilities, as well as runs the state lottery. It also regulates charitable games, such as church bingo halls.

The four-person board approved a mission statement, adding to it a charge that the agency specifically notes its interest in ensuring the safety of race horses. The mission statement notes the larger oversight agency has broad powers that "seek to ensure fair and strict regulation of all gaming activity while reducing costs and regulatory burdens to the gaming industry."

It further states the commission "aspires to provide the regulator structure necessary for New York gaming activity to operate effectively in a global, evolving, and increasingly competitive marketplace."

The new panel also approved decisions, normally the work of a board of directors, made by Williams during the past six months. Absent a board in place, Williams, a respected government expert on racing and gambling matters, was given the power to make those decisions by the state Racing and Wagering Board before it expired at the end of January.

With the 2013 legislative session ending last week, it is possible the commission’s other three remaining board members might not be in place until sometime in 2014.