Assembly Speaker Weighs in on NY Casinos

Democrat Sheldon Silver has some issues with strategy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The New York legislature's most powerful Democrat said Jan. 24 he would be open to further casino development at Aqueduct Racetrack, as well as several other specific locations in New York City. But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he still opposes any casinos in all of Manhattan, and central, densely populated parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

The veteran legislative leader noted possible gambling expansion locations as Willets Point section of Queens, Aqueduct in Queens, and Coney Island in Brooklyn. "I wouldn't rule those out," Silver said.

Silver's Democratic colleagues from New York City have long expressed concerns about casinos being located in populated areas that could easily draw people, especially those on lower or fixed incomes.

"My concern is that somebody doesn't go out on their lunch hour. You have to take a half hour trip or hour trip to get there," he said of allowing casinos in some of the outer parts of boroughs.

Silver also dismissed the idea, pushed by some developers, of a high-end casino in Manhattan with large entrance fees to appeal to wealthier residents and tourists. "I don't like the idea," he said.

The speaker also said he wants to see changed a proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to give the power of deciding where casinos will be located to a state agency controlled by the governor.

"We want a method by which the legislature has input into the determination as to where the casinos will be, what the timing will be on it," Silver said. "I don't think we have to identify specific regions. We have to identify the method by which we ultimately get there."

The legislature last year passed a first resolution to change the constitution to permit up to seven new full-blown casinos on non-Indian lands. They would be able to offer forms of gambling now banned at racetrack-based video lottery terminal casinos.

The resolution is vague about where the casinos might be located, and Cuomo's budget plan proposes an initial phase that would require the first three casinos to be located upstate. He also wants any decisions about casino locations to be made by a state Gaming Commission set to be in place Feb. 1.

The legislature needs to pass the constitutional amendment resolution again this session if it is to go to voters, as Cuomo hopes, in November for a statewide referendum. Racetracks with VLTs have been angling to get the new casino expansion rights, but Cuomo has been cold to the idea, saying he wants developers to propose major destination-resort type facilities.