New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in Albany, New York, on Tuesday, November 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Cuomo Backs Commercial Casinos

Gale Courey Toensing
12/7/11

Seneca leaders vow to protect Nation’s gaming exclusivity zone

The New York governor has come on board with state legislators and a lobbying group representing race tracks in support of expanding commercial gaming.

With the state facing a $3.5 billion deficit, Gov. Andrew Cuomo with Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced a plan Tuesday, December 6, “to create jobs and grow the economy” through tax reforms, infrastructure funding, and support for an amendment to the state Constitution that will allow commercial gaming throughout the state.

President James Featherstonhaugh, the president of the New York Gaming Association, welcomed the governor’s support, the Queens Courier reported. The New York Gaming Association represents nine racetracks that are lobbying for a change in the state Constitution to allow their facilities to convert from the existing video lottery terminals to full casinos with slot machines, poker and other table games. “We are pleased to hear of [the governor’s] support for legalizing enhanced commercial gaming in New York State, which will create tens of thousands of much-needed jobs, generate hundreds of millions in additional state revenues and stimulate significant private sector investment,” he said.

Featherstonehaugh had predicted Cuomo’s action at the second annual New England Gaming Summit at Mohegan Sun November 14. “I expect the governor to endorse the general concept in the next week to 10 days. I think there’ll be passage early in the session of a very general constitutional amendment which will then be fleshed out over the course of the next year before it goes to the public,” Featherstonehaugh said. “There are currently nine conceptual expansions already drawn up. By 2014 those expansions will be shovel-ready and would be finished in 2015.”

On the same day as Cuomo’s announcement, the Seneca Nation of Indians released a poll indicating residents in Seneca territory in Western New York support the Nation’s exclusive rights to casino gaming in the area. Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter and other tribal leaders said they expect the state to abide by the exclusivity terms of the compact, which has the same legal force as a contract or treaty.

The Nation is currently in arbitration with the state to settle a gaming dispute involving more than $330 million in slot machine revenues. The Nation has withheld the payments to the state since 2009, charging that the state has violated the exclusivity provision of its gaming compact by allowing and promoting slot machines at private businesses and three state-run racinos located within its exclusivity zone.

Porter said the Nation would oppose any further attempts to violate its exclusivity zone. “New Yorkers have every right to discuss expanded gaming outside our exclusivity zone. As a business partner with the state, we disagree over racinos in our zone. But the issue of the state breaching Seneca exclusivity will be arbitrated and resolved. In the meantime and the future, the Nation will continue to be a leader in this area of economic development,” Porter said in a statement.

As for Cuomo’s economic development plan, the governor and legislators provided details about tax reform and infrastructure spending. The overhaul of New York State’s income tax will provide a higher-tax bracket for the highest-income residents and reduction of the tax rate for 4.4 million middle-class residents. The infrastructure strategy, called the NY Works Agenda, will provide $1 billion to target and accelerate investment in key infrastructure projects around the state including roads, bridges, parks, energy and water projects. But the announcement was short on details about the casino expansion plan. “The NY Works Agenda also includes pursuing a comprehensive gaming plan and enacting a new tax credit to incentive the hiring of inner city youth,” the announcement says. “The Leaders expressed support to work with the Governor and request support from their respective majorities to put a constitutional amendment up for a vote. “

Porter said the Nation, with its three destination casino properties, will continue to be part of the discussion. “Working with the state since 2002, the Nation invested $900 million in three casinos and created thousands of jobs that have a significant economic multiplier effect,””Porter said. “Let’s keep the big picture in focus: Seneca gaming works and right now it’s the only gambling mechanism that provides economic benefits to the state and its people, and will continue to for years before any amendment might be put to a vote.”

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