Upstate casinos included in budget plan

Legislative Gazette

There are currently nine racinos in New York, like the one pictured above, that house slot machine games. Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed initiative, three casinos with full gaming and card tables will be opened in upstate New York and should generate $150 million in revenue.Photo byAP.

Upstate New York is expected to be the home of three casinos if all goes according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan.

During the Executive Budget speech last Tuesday, Cuomo focused on the economic and tourist development of New York, particularly the upstate region.

In his Executive Budget address, Cuomo called the potential casinos “one of our best economic development weapons.”

The focus will be on diverting some of the tourism downstate and in New York City to upstate to help regenerate the economy.

“There are now 8.2 million residents about in New York City. There are 50 million tourists to New York City every year,” said Cuomo in his State of the State address. “A major challenge for us, and a major opportunity for us, is to get that traffic from New York City to upstate New York.”

Supporters of expanded gambling upstate say the proposed casinos will not only bring tourists to the region, but also job opportunities throughout the state. There are currently nine “racinos” throughout the state, but they are limited to slot machine games and horse racing.

“Now, some people will say New York is not in the casino business, we’re in the racino business, they will say,” said Cuomo. “I would say those people are in a different state called the state of denial.”

The opening of the casinos upstate is expected to rival those of Atlantic City, New Jersey and casinos in Connecticut.

However, the operators of the current racinos say the state should be expanding gaming opportunities at their sites.

“The three proposed upstate casinos would not provide revenue for the state until 2016. The current nine racinos in New York state are [already] built and can open in 2014. The governor’s plan will cost the state taxpayer at least $500 million in revenue by waiting,” said Gary Greenberg, a minority owner of the Vernon Downs Racetrack in Vernon, New York.

Assemblyman William Magee, D-Oneida, said he believes “it will be a plus if [Vernon Downs Casino and Hotel] is one of the few that is chosen” to be expanded to a full casino.

Cuomo said he expects the casinos will generate about $150 million in revenue, which will be split in two. Ninety percent of the revenue will go towards education funds, while the remaining 10 percent will be given to the local government for property tax relief.

Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, who represents the area where the Saratoga Casino and Raceway is located, said although he likes the idea of generating revenue for education and property tax relief, a portion should also go back to the racing industry.

“What about the breeders and thoroughbred owners? There should be a part that goes back to the thoroughbred industry. No … portion of this will go back to the industry. A lot of details are missing,” said Tedisco.

The current racino owners in New York said they should be priorities for the location of the three new casinos.

The race track casino industry is expected to support education in New York to the tune of $1 billion, according to James Featherstonhaugh, president of the New York Gaming Association, which represents racetrack casino operators across the state. He made this prediction at an Assembly Committee on Racing and Wagering meeting in December.

“Like in real estate it’s all about location, location, location,” said Tedisco regarding the casinos. “If you put one of these in Albany or in Lake George it will have a negative impact on one of the most important racetracks in the world.”

In the governor’s 2012 State of the State address, Cuomo reiterated his support to legalize gambling in New York State.

Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, R-Batavia, said it is premature to have a distinct position on the casinos right now but added, there is “some concern that it will leave out western New York and the Batavia Downs.”

The locations of the proposed casinos have not been disclosed yet, nor who will be building them. The governor calls for the casinos to be built upstate, which eliminates New York City, Long Island and Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties.

“We believe we should hold a national competition,” said Cuomo. “I have reason to believe the best casino companies in the country and the world will come in to compete but, I believe we should keep politics out of the decision and leave it to the gaming commission to pick the best on the merits.”

In addition to the casinos, a series of initiatives are being proposed to garner tourist attention to what the state has to offer. “Taste NY” will highlight products from New York in duty-free stores across the state. Cuomo is also proposing a $5 million advertising competition in upstate New York as a competitive regional tourism marketing campaign.