Racinos Tout Contributions to Public Education

Legislative Gazette

Looking for a leg up in the race for full casino licensing, the nine member racinos in the New York Gaming Association have released financial data based on figures compiled by the New York Division of Lottery for the fiscal year 2011-2012.

Included is the amount of money the racinos contributed toward public education in the state last year.

Extolling the positive financial impact the numbers show, the racinos are using the reports as evidence for why they should be the sole recipients of full casino gaming licenses that a proposed constitutional amendment would allow.

In fact, Gary Greenberg, a minority shareholder of both Vernon Downs and Empire Resorts, citing conversations with other racino officials and owners, suggests the proposed amendment for only seven available licenses “may not be the final bill this year.”

According to the reports released earlier this month, the nine racinos generated a “net win” of $1.426 billion, with about $667 million of that being contributed to public education in New York.

This is up significantly from the 2010-2011 numbers of a $1.11 billion net win with $521 million going to education, in large part because the Resorts World New York casino at Aqueduct was opened midway through the most recent fiscal year.

The highest education contributor was Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway, generating about $315 million for schools by itself, in addition to almost $20 million given directly to the city of Yonkers.

A bill to allow full casino gaming at seven locations “as prescribed by the Legislature,” has passed both houses and been approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. To become law, it needs to pass another vote in the Legislature next year and be approved by a public referendum.

Calling the fact that there are only seven licenses but nine racinos a “quandary,” Greenberg said “there will be an attempt to get the Legislature to pass a bill where the wording would allow nine locations; six racinos [converted into full scale casinos] and three [racinos converted into] resort type destinations.”

The thinking is that if a second version of the amendment is passed this session, next year the Legislature will be free to decide whether they want nine casinos, seven, or none at all.

According to Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, chair of the Racing and Wagering Committee, the number of licenses – seven – wasn’t chosen because it was deemed the safest number to contain problem gambling or even because it maximized profit without over-saturating the market; the Legislature arrived at the number simply as the end result of a negotiation.

“Speaker Silver wanted less, the Senate wanted more and it was negotiated,” said Bonacic. “Plus, seven’s a lucky number,” he joked.

Bonacic added there has been no discussion whatsoever of locations, only saying they will be established before the amendment comes to a vote in the Legislature next year.

In regards to Greenberg’s ideas on a second amendment, Bonacic said “I see the proposal of a second gaming amendment this session as unlikely, but not impossible.”

Greenberg says to “expect a huge advertising campaign by the racinos” to rally the public to support only racino licensing, not new casinos altogether built by “outsiders.”

Said Greenberg: “There are many players in the gaming and racing industry that are upset with the vague seven locations in the bill passed. I have been hearing from the 100 shareholders of Vernon Downs and they tell me the support will not be there for referendum in 2013. All nine current racinos need to have an opportunity to run a casino. The amendment will not pass unless the current racinos are included.”

The latest Siena poll put the public’s feelings on the constitutional amendment to build full casinos at 50 to 46 in support, with a margin of error of 3.4 percent, essentially leaving the proposition in a dead heat with the public.