Coglianese Photos

Push for Expanded Gambling Intensifies in NY

One legislator has proposed sports betting, currently banned under federal law.

Legislation is popping up in New York to permit additional casinos across the state, with other versions of bills placing the expanded gambling offerings at existing racetrack casinos. And there is a new effort to permit sports betting in the state.

The flurry of gambling activity in New York expanded after Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during his state budget submission, said more than $1 billion a year in tax revenue could be raised by permitting full-fledged casinos—including table games—beyond the areas that now feature Indian-owned gambling halls.

The governor is also pressing for development of the world’s largest convention center next to Aqueduct on land the state says is leased to Genting New York, the operator of the new video lottery terminal casino at the racetrack.

The idea, including its unanswered components as well as new battles between the state and the New York Racing Association, has led to a range of speculation. Included are suggestions the state or Genting might have an interest in closing down racing at Aqueduct to permit a larger casino, hotel, and entertainment facility on the land.

“Aqueduct cannot shut down, because if Aqueduct shuts down that will be the end of winter racing in New York,” said Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, chairman of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee.

Pretlow noted there has been talk over the years about changing the training track at Belmont Park to a winter track and adding a small grandstand for winter racing. “But that’s another story for the future,” he said. “As it stands now, I don’t see Aqueduct shutting down.”

During the week of Jan. 15 the governor submitted legislation to both houses to change the state constitution to permit a casino expansion on non-Indian lands. But Cuomo’s legislation is not specific about how many casinos would be permitted or where.

Senate Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman John Bonacic said he hopes any casino resolution passed this year is specific in nature. Pretlow said the details can be taken care of next year in separate enabling legislation. To be successful, a casino resolution would have to pass two successive sessions of the legislature, and then a statewide referendum.

If lawmakers approve a resolution this year and next year, voters would be able, at the earliest, to consider the idea in November 2013.

Separately, Pretlow has offered a resolution to permit the casino gambling expansion to occur at the state’s existing racetracks that now offer VLTs. He said he plans to start an effort he hopes will eventually allow sports betting in the state.

The governor also proposed merging the state Lottery Division, which now regulates the lottery games and racetrack casinos, with the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, which has jurisdiction over racing at tracks and gambling by charitable organizations.

“At first blush, if it improves efficiencies, I don’t have a problem with it,” Bonacic said.

But he said the Senate will want more input in the selection of board members of the new gambling commission. The legislation by Cuomo gives the governor power to appoint all its board members and executive director, and they can be fired at will.

“I think the racing industry has some concerns with that,” Bonacic said. “I think that’s something we’re going to look at more closely, but I think it will be tweaked and not be in its present form as proposed by the governor.”

Pretlow said he has no criticism of the governor having control over appointments to a new gambling-related agency. “I think it’s a good idea, putting it all under one roof,” he said.

The governor has said he also hopes to use the casino debate as a way for the state to devise an overall plan to better coordinate how the racing industry is structured. His new budget plan did not include specific possibilities to carry out such an agenda.

“There’s no racing plan because, for the most part, the racing industry is private,” Pretlow said. “We don’t make their plans. If the governor is complaining or saying there seems to be no plan, it’s because there can’t be a plan. We don’t control them” outside of industry regulation.