NY Governor: State Must ‘Come to Grips’ with Gambling

Gale Courey Toensing
8/11/11

The Oneida Indian Nation says the state has two options for expanding gaming: It can partner with Indian nations for immediate success or spend years trying to pass a law to allow commercial gaming.

The Nation was responding to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s comments at a press conference August 9 in Albany that it was time for the state to “come to grips” with the proliferation of gambling in New York and neighboring states and that he was weighing the legalization of commercial, non-Indian casinos in New York State. “The gaming issue is an issue that this state has come to grips with,” Cuomo said.

Mark Emery, the Oneida Nation’s director of public relations, responded in a statement on the nation’s website. “If the State wishes to expand gaming, it has two options for doing so,” Emery said.  “It can spend many years trying to pass new legislation through two successive terms of the legislature—something which it never has been able to accomplish—and present it for a state-wide referendum, something it never has attempted. Or, it can bring gaming to the State promptly and assuredly under already-existing laws by working closely with its in-state Indian nations to enjoy immediate revenue sharing which would benefit the entire State.”

Cuomo said his administration has been researching the gaming industry and discussing whether to endorse a constitutional amendment that would legalize gambling statewide. “It’s really not an issue anymore of ‘Well, if we don’t officially sanction it as a government, it’s not going to happen,’” Cuomo said at the news conference. “It is happening. So now you have to go to the second step. If there is going to be gaming, how should it be done? And that issue, that question, is an important question for the state.”

Those questions may be explored next month in the legislature. In July, Sen. John J. Bonacic, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee, said he intends to hold hearings related to a constitutional amendment for both casino gaming and horse racing in the state.

“Whether we agree with every action taken or not, under the leadership of Governor Cuomo and the Senate Majority Leader (Dean) Skelos, New York has changed for the better. I want to build on that energy during the off-session to develop proposals which are capable of passing both the Assembly and Senate relating to both private casino gaming development and improvements to New York’s horse racing industry,” Bonacic said.

A constitutional amendment would require approval by the Legislature in two consecutive sessions and then approval by voters at a referendum. But the issue of expanded gaming in New York is fraught with controversy.   Similar efforts to amend the constitution to end the ban on commercial gaming failed during the 1990’s. Last year the state senate passed a measure to allow five commercial casinos, but the proposal was not discussed in the Assembly or brought to the floor in the last legislative session.

Three Indian nations—the Oneida, Seneca, and St. Regis Mohawk Tribe—own and operate five casinos in the central and northern part of the state. Slot machines are operating at eight race tracks, called “racinos,” and another is set to open at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens later this year.

Last winter, a proposal by the the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians of Wisconsin to build an off reservation casino in the Catskills, more than 1,000 miles from its land base, was vigorously opposed by both the Oneida Indian Nation and the Seneca Nation of Indians, but also by racino owners and the general population, which voted 81 percent against the project in a statewide poll. The Interior Department denied the application, but since then a distance restriction on “off reservation casinos has been lifted. If a constitutional amendment is passed and approved by the public, Indian nations from anywhere in the country could also compete for a license to operate a commercial casino.

Meanwhile, the New York Gaming Association is expected to begin advocating for a constitutional amendment later this year, The New York Times reported.

Among its backers is Genting New York, a subsidiary of the largest gambling company in England and Southeast Asia, which paid a $380 million upfront licensing fee last year for the right to install 4,525 video slot machines at the Aqueduct racetrack, which it would like to turn into a full-fledged casino, the report said.

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