Opponents of a Coney Island casino can breathe a little easier today, knowing that Governor Andrew Cuomo has scaled back his support for casino gambling in New York, and is ruling it out entirely in New York City.
During his State of the State address yesterday, New York’s chief executive said the state should begin with only three full-scale casinos – not seven, as is currently being considered by the legislature – and that all three be established upstate.
“We propose a casino plan to boost upstate development,” Cuomo said. “I believe casinos in upstate New York could be a great magnet to bring the New York City traffic up. They now go to New Jersey, they go to Connecticut – why don’t we bring them to upstate New York?”
The hope is to keep New York City’s 8.2 million residents and 50 million tourists from rolling the dice out of state, and instead keep the revenue for New York’s coffers while giving upstate counties a much needed economic boost.
Brighton Beach Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, chair of the Assembly’s Alcohol and Substance Abuse Committee that oversees gambling addiction issues, applauded the governor’s new tack.
“This is great news for New York State, which would benefit from the more than $1 billion in economic activity that could be generated by casino gaming, and for our residential communities here in the city that dreaded the potential negative impact of gambling venues on our neighborhoods,” Cymbrowitz said.
Cuomo, though, is calling this “Phase One” of expanded gambling in New York, meaning that he could still be mulling Las Vegas-style casinos for New York City down the line. That has Stop the Coney Island Casino, a coalition formed to oppose any casino in Southern Brooklyn, waiting to hear more.
“Stop the Coney Island Casino stops short of fully applauding Governor Cuomo’s casino plan,” said Steve Zeltser, the organization’s executive director. “One simply needs to read between the lines and see that this new plan simply states there will be no casinos in New York City…for now. We call on the Governor to release the details of Phase 2 of his casino expansion plan.”
Although it’s far from a hard proposal, opponents like Zeltser can take some comfort that Cuomo expressed support for a form of “home rule” control over gambling, saying local governments should have a say in whether a casino is located in their jurisdictions.
The announcement also throws a wrench in the ongoing legislative process for an expansion of casino gambling. Last year, the legislature approved a constitutional amendment that would permit seven new casinos in the state. That amendment would need to be approved a second time this year and then go to voters.
Unless the amendment is changed to limit it to three, lawmakers can go forward with permitting seven by the end of this year regardless of the governor’s wishes. And some in Albany suggest that it’s best to do just that.
City and State reports:
“It was a surprise to me that he’s limiting it to three at this stage,” said Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who chairs the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee. “I think that if we’re trying to maximize our revenue, you should look at doing all seven immediately, even if we don’t go into the building phase immediately, just go through the allocation phase and get that done.”
Sen. John Bonacic, the longtime chair of the Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee, said the governor’s plan is simply a proposal and that there is plenty left to negotiate. For example, he said, the Legislature should retain control over which counties get a casino and only then let the new gaming commission get involved.
“The constitutional amendment is a legislative prerogative, and it’s my thinking that we should identify all of the counties where a casino could go and then the gaming commission could review competitive bids of which could be the resort casino project,” Bonacic said. “And I think it should go hand in hand with the enacting legislation. What the governor is proposing is to do the constitutional amendment and at some point have the gaming commission at a later date approve casinos in counties where they designate, which the Legislature would lose control of that.”
As part of his casino proposal, the governor also called for a revenue split of 90 percent of the funds for education and 10 percent for local property tax relief.