NY Lawmaker Criticizes Indian Casino Compact

Compact was signed by former Gov. David Paterson during closing days of his term.

New York State will lose money and the racing industry will be severely dented if the go-ahead is given to a Wisconsin Indian tribe to build a casino in the Catskills resort region, a top Democratic lawmaker said Feb. 2.

Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, chairman of the Assembly racing committee, said former Gov. David Paterson may not have followed a legal certification process involving the Legislature that could make the proposed deal moot anyway.

“What purports to make this legal was never transmitted to the Legislature,” Pretlow said after a Feb. 2 hearing he called during which tracks and New York-based Indian casino operators complain about the deal signed by Paterson and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans. Pretlow said the administration never provided the Legislature with a copy of the proposed casino deal, which he said could prove legally problematic for the casino plans.

“My take is that, number one, if this comes to fruition the state comes out a loser,” Pretlow said. He said racetrack racinos will see a revenue loss of as much as 20% from the competition by a full-fledged casino operating just 90 miles from Manhattan.

The Wisconsin tribe has defended the legality of the proposed compact with the state--which is now awaiting a decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior later this month--and dismissed the racetrack complaints as “invalid.” The tribe says the racing industry is drawing misleading comparisons about what they contribute to the state versus the revenues the proposed casino would bring.

But Pretlow said the Catskills casino plan is already having an effect on Genting New York, the developers of the future casino at Aqueduct in Queens. He noted the project is cutting tens of millions of dollars in development plans because of a projected decrease in revenues if it has to compete with the Catskills casino.

“They’re reducing their investment at Aqueduct,” Pretlow said, who added it will result in fewer construction jobs at the project now underway.

Michael Speller, president of Resorts World New York, which is the name of the Aqueduct casino, said the Indian-owned casino would be able to offer full gambling, unlike the VLT-only facilities at tracks. He said the Catskills casino owner would also enjoy lower tax rates, which frees up money for added facilities and incentives for gamblers. Also, the Indian casino would not have to comply with the state’s indoor smoking ban.

“It is clear that the racetrack casinos within three hours drive of the Catskill Indian casino cannot compete,” Speller said in written testimony for the Assembly hearing.

Speller said the Catskill casino would result in the certain closure of the Monticello harness track and drive away weekend patrons from Yonkers, the future Aqueduct casino and as far away as the Saratoga harness casino facility.

Speller estimated $12 billion in revenues would be transferred from racetrack racinos to the Catskill casino over the 30-year life of the compact.

“For zero consideration, the state has granted the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe the right to build a casino so near to the main populated areas of the state and give it a 30-year slot exclusivity over the 16 most densely populated counties of New York State, including New York City,” Speller said.

The deal between the tribe and Paterson was signed in the final days of his administration in December.