New York Casino Plans On Hold

Officials certain to put off negotiations until after the religious holidays.

New York officials are all but certain to punt until later in the legislative session final negotiations on a plan to add up to seven new casinos on non-Indian lands in the state.

Neither house of the state Legislature included a casino expansion bill proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in their separate, non-binding budget resolutions that hit the Senate and Assembly floors March 11.

The disappearance of the casino provisions is a bow to a push by lawmakers and Cuomo to enact an on-time state budget before leaving town next week for the religious holidays.

Legislative leaders have said the casino issue is too complex – the sides can’t agree on a number of issues, including where the new facilities might go or how operators would be selected – to resolve by next week. That appeared to be fine with Cuomo, who said he is still convinced all sides still want to see the casino expansion move forward.

“It’s a complicated issue and given the short time frame it may very well be that casinos wait for June,’’ Cuomo said of the end-of-session period of the 2013 legislative session.

The Legislature last year passed the first of two resolutions needed to change the constitution to permit up to seven casinos. Cuomo this year introduced into his state budget plan the so-called enabling language to that resolution; it calls for the first three casinos to be placed somewhere upstate with no details on where the remaining four might go in the future, and for a new state gaming commission that he controls to pick the operators.

The governor said his plan is to bring jobs upstate, and that by permitting a New York City-based casino right away would make those upstate facilities a less attractive investment for developers.

“If the franchises upstate are going to be worth money they’re worth more if you can promise there’s not going to be a casino in New York City, because the theory is the New York City market will go to the upstate casino. If there is a casino in New York City, it reduces the value of the upstate franchises,” Cuomo said today.

If lawmakers approve a second constitutional amendment resolution this year along with the enabling legislation, the matter will go to voters this fall in a statewide referendum.

The two houses approved separate resolutions March 11 for what the majority parties would like to see in the final state budget plan. Much of what they proposed in the one-house bills will not become law, but they do provide a glimpse into what the two houses may be pushing for in budget talks.

The Senate resolution, crafted by Republicans and five breakaway Democrats who together run the house in a coalition, includes a number of changes to Cuomo’s budget plan, including spending $750,000 on racing fan development programs. It also calls for $1.5 million of Thoroughbred purse money be directed to fund jockey health and pension benefits.