Gov. signs casino plan; Next stop, state voters

Legislative Gazette

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act into law, authorizing four resort-style casinos in the state — contingent upon approval by voters this November.

The law was drafted by the governor as a way to not only promote tourism and travel in upstate New York, but to boost the economies of struggling counties statewide as well. Under the new law, all localities in the state will receive increased education aid or lower property taxes regardless of their proximity to a casino.

“For too many years, gaming revenue has left New York for our neighboring states,” Cuomo said. “Today, we are putting New York state in a position to have those dollars spent here in our communities, which will benefit our local economies and tourism industries, as well as support education and property tax relief.”

The new law will authorize four upstate gaming resorts — if voters approve the ballot referendum — that will be competitively selected based on the economic development impact the resort would have on a particular region. Only three regions of the state will be authorized to have a casino, the Hudson Valley/Catskill area, the Capital District/Saratoga area and the Central-Southern Tier. One of those three regions may have up to two casinos if approved by the state Gaming Commission, which will handle the selection and regulation of the casinos. The law would also allow Nassau and Suffolk OTB to create a video lottery terminal (VLT) gaming facility at an OTB site with a 1,000-machine maximum.

Due to geographic exclusivity clauses reached with the Seneca, Mohawk and Oneida Indian Nations, there would not be any casinos authorized in the Western New York, Central New York and North Country. And casinos will not be authorized in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, New York City or Long Island. There will be a seven-year moratorium on any additional casinos being licensed by the state.

Applications for a destination resort will be evaluated on a number of different criterion; 70 percent based on economic activity and business development factors; 20 percent on local impact and 10 percent on workforce factors.

“By legalizing [casino gaming] in New York, we can create thousands of jobs and allow for billions of dollars in investment,” said Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, the chair of the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee. “Gov. Cuomo has brought us to the brink of success here. Anyone who wants more money for education and more jobs should vote for the gaming referendum this November.”

The tax rate on slot machines will remain comparable to the VLT facility rates within each region, which range from 37 percent to 45 percent, depending on the region. Table games will carry a 10 percent tax rate and all existing payments to the state racing industry will be maintained.

Each county in upstate New York will receive revenue from the casinos. Ten percent of the state’s tax revenue will split equally between the host municipality and county, and 10 percent will be split between the region’s remaining counties. The remaining 80 percent of the state’s tax revenue will be used statewide for elementary and secondary education or property tax relief. Additionally, 10 percent of the gaming revenue collected by the state from Indian gaming facilities will be distributed to counties within each region of exclusivity.

Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon, the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee chair, said, “These destination resorts would mean good news for the local communities, the local economies, and the people of our state. Gaming has the potential to create new jobs for New Yorkers and bring downstate residents and tourists to the attractions of upstate, and this exciting new law will put us in a position to make casino gaming an economic driver here in New York state.”

“I commend Gov. Cuomo for signing this new law that will bring New York state a step closer to bringing casinos to the Catskills, the Southern Tier and the Capital Region,” Pretlow said.

In order to combat an increased threat of problem and pathological gambling in the state, the law requires a $500 annual fee on all slot machines and table games, which will be devoted to problem gambling programs. Each resort will also have to include a viable problem gambling program in their resort application, which will be one of the factors in selecting the casino site.

If voters do not pass the referendum this November, the state will authorize up to four VLT facilities, one per region in the Capital District, Central-Southern Tier, Catskills and Nassau County as a way to secure funding for educational assistance.

“Our focus has been to bring jobs and boost local economies in upstate New York, where decades of decline have taken their toll in our communities,” Cuomo said. “This new law will bring the state one step closer to establishing world-class destination gaming resorts that will attract tourists to upstate New York and support thousands of good paying jobs as well as new revenue for local businesses.”