Times Union

Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s proposal to limit the initial phase of casino expansion to three upstate sites has motivated racino operators to lobby harder for a chance to convert their slot facilities into Las Vegas-like gambling arenas.

“I was kind of surprised by the plan. I don’t know what his logic is,” said Jeffrey Gural, owner of two of the state’s nine racinos, at harness tracks in Vernon in central New York and Tioga in the Southern Tier. ” … Hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to show the state that it would be better to allow the racinos convert over to casinos.”

Gural said if Cuomo’s goal is to create jobs, racinos — which offer video lottery terminals — can retrofit their facilities in a few months, while newcomers would need years to build their gaming emporiums.

Cuomo unveiled a “Phase I” vision of three casinos upstate in his State of the State address on Wednesday. On Thursday he added to the blueprint, telling reporters that he wants to use casino/destination resort developments upstate as a magnet for the 50 million visitors to New York City, to push tourism dollars into markets north of the metropolitan area.

The proposal was interpreted by some gambling industry officials as a slap to the New York Gaming Association, the racino trade group. Cuomo emphasized that racino operators currently market their facilities as casinos. His desire to add three more casinos upstate seemed to telegraph a disregard for the association’s push for their sites to be authorized to offer table games in addition to VLTs. Cuomo said he wants to conduct competitive bidding from casino companies, who for business reasons would be unlikely to locate near racinos.

The governor said he would honor tribal casino compacts that grant exclusivity territory, as long as the agreements are in good standing. Cuomo did not say if he considers the deals with the Seneca and Mohawk tribes to be in good standing. Both tribes have been withholding revenue-sharing with the state for the past few years because of disputes over alleged breaches of their exclusivity rights.

Citing the need to boost upstate, the governor said he doesn’t want the New York City area to be part of the first phase of casino expansion. “If there were going to be one … that would be the option that most bidders would bid on,” he said. ” … We want to take that off the table.”

Cuomo didn’t say when he would outline a second phase. But any plan would become moot if the Legislature fails to pass a constitutional resolution for up to seven casinos. If passed, the measure would go to voters in November.