Coglianese Photos

NY Officials Seek to Expand Casino Gaming

Agreement is tentative because details on the Las Vegas-style casinos are vague.

New York state officials have agreed to seek approval of a constitutional amendment to permit expansion of Las Vegas-style casino gambling on non-Indian lands.

But the agreement is tentative, at best, since no one has yet agreed on where such casinos could operate, how many could open, who would operate them, or how much of their proceeds would go to the state.

The tentative deal was announced Dec. 6 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders. It was a one-paragraph mention in a broader deal on taxes and infrastructure spending.

“I haven’t seen anything,’’ said Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee chairman Gary Pretlow.

“I know something’s going to happen, but there’s no real rush to do something in special session since we have until December next year to do something,” he said.

Permitting such casinos, with table games and real slots instead of just the racetrack-based VLT devices, would require a change in the state constitution. That needs approval by two successive sessions of the state legislature followed by a statewide referendum by voters. The earliest a statewide vote could occur would be November 2013.

The sides basically said an agreement-in-principle has been reached. But a whole slew of issues remain to be worked out, such as whether the casinos would be limited to, as some plans call for, the Catskills region of the state, or whether to let them be located in other areas, including those where the state has already authorized Indian-owned casinos or at Belmont Park, which would cause a battle with financial backers of the new Aqueduct casino.

The Seneca Nation, which runs three casinos in Western New York, was quick to criticize the state for looking at possibly opening new gambling halls in a region in which it has an exclusivity deal with the state.

The governor has only said he wants to permit “destination” casinos, but he has not defined the term with any specifics. But he has said the state needs the jobs and revenues that would be created by the new casinos, and that New York is facing increased competition from neighboring states for gambling dollars.

“It’s clear that the political leadership of New York state recognizes that New York already has gaming, that gaming can be made better and produce additional state revenues as well as substantial economic development,” said James Featherstonhaugh, president of the New York Gaming Association, which is promoting the expansion of full-scale casinos at the state’s racetracks that now have VLT facilities.

“Obviously, how that is done is going to be important to maximize benefits to taxpayers, but I think it’s clear that the political leadership is committed to attempting to find a path that will allow gaming to assist in bringing New York out of its current economic downturn,” said Featherstonhaugh, who is also a financial partner in the Saratoga harness track and its VLT operation.

Officials say they will push to get a vote in the upcoming 2012 session, with a second legislative passage sometime in 2013.