Cuomo: Non-Indian Casinos in NY Possible

After 10 years of stalled efforts to locate casinos in the economically depressed Catskills resort region, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says it may be time for the state to permit non-Indian casinos in New York.

The governor Aug. 9 told reporters that New York is already surrounded by casinos in adjoining states and that his administration is looking into whether to back a constitutional amendment process to permit casinos beyond the Indian-owned and racino operations already up and running in New York.

“It's a topic that we are looking at actively,'' Cuomo said at the Capitol during a session with reporters on a variety of topics. Cuomo has been in office eight months, and his administration recently hired Bennett Liebman, a former state racing commissioner and founder of a racing think tank at Albany Law School, as an advisor on gambling and racing industry issues.

The state in 2001 okayed the opening of racetrack-based, VLT-only casinos, as well as three Indian-owned gambling facilities in the Catskills. While racinos have been built across the state and the Seneca Nation and Oneida Indian tribe have successful, full-blown casinos operating on their upstate reservations, the Catskills casino efforts have stalled for a variety of legal, financial, and political reasons.

Recently, the Obama administration shifted away from a policy by former President George W. Bush that halted placement of Indian-owned casinos on land located off their reservation territories.

Legislation is also pending in New York state to amend the constitution to permit non-Indian casinos. Such a process requires the backing of two, separately elected sessions of the Legislature and a statewide referendum; it would be, under the current effort, at least until 2013 before such a referendum could occur. The bill's sponsors – Assemblyman Gary Pretlow and Senator John Bonacic, the heads of the racing committees in the two houses – have predicted at least initial passage in the Legislature, but that they would not press the effort until 2012.

Casinos in the Catskills could pose major competition for racino operations in such places as Yonkers, as well as the future casino at the New York Racing Association's Aqueduct track, which is set to open later this year.

Such broader casino efforts by the state, though, could also make it politically easier for racinos to add other forms of gambling beyond video lottery terminals. The Malaysian-based company that will operate Aqueduct's racino has already signaled it wants more than just the approved 4,500 VLTs to lure gamblers to the Queens facility.

The Oneida Indian tribe was quick to criticize Cuomo's thoughts about adding non-Indian casinos to the mix of gambling options in New York. The tribe, which operates a casino negotiated back in the 1990s under terms with Cuomo's father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, said the state can take the route of the untested way of a constitutional amendment, which it noted could take years.

Or, as Oneida spokesman Mark Emery said, "It can bring gaming to the state promptly and assuredly under already-existing laws by working closely with its in-state Indian nations to enjoy immediate revenue-sharing which would benefit the entire state.''