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Voters to decide on casinos; Close call, especially in NYC

If voters approve the casino referendum in November, games such as roulette may become available in Sullivan County.
Contributed photo by Matt Buck

By Fritz Mayer
June 26, 2013

ALBANY, NY — The last time it seemed that a casino would open in Sullivan County, the hurdle standing in the way was the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the Department of the Interior. This time around, the potential hurdle is the voters of New York State.

Now that Governor Andrew Cuomo and the legislature have reached an agreement about a constitutional amendment to allow non-Indian gaming in the state, the voters will be asked to decide the matter through a referendum, most likely in November.

While Cuomo has structured his upstate economic development plans around gaming, there is no guarantee that the voters will agree with him that gambling is the way to go.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll released on June 6, “forty-eight percent of voters say changing the state constitution to allow casino gambling is a good idea, while 45% say (it’s a) bad idea. In upstate communities, support for the change is 49% in favor, and 43% opposed. In New York City, the margin is 46% support the change and 47% oppose it.”

And voters oppose 55 to 41% having casino gambling in the town or city where they live. Opposition to a casino nearby is 50 to 46% among upstate voters, 53 to 44% among New York City voters and 67 to 28% among suburban voters.

The legislation calls for the creation of up to four casinos in three regions: the Capital Region, the Catskills and the Eastern Finger Lakes, and one of those regions will be permitted to have two casinos; most people think that would be the Catskills. Those would be the only casinos to be built for five yeas, after which three more casinos could be built in the counties closer to the city and in the city itself.

According to information on Cuomo’s website, “eighty percent of state revenues from the casinos will be used statewide for elementary and secondary education, or property tax relief; 10% will be split equally between the host municipality and the host county; and 10% will go to other counties in the region of the destination gaming resort to provide tax relief or educational assistance. The educational aid will be additive and will not be part of the state’s existing education formula.”

As part of the process of coming up with a gaming plan, Cuomo settled long-standing disputes among state and local government and three separate Indian tribes. The website says, “The state and local governments will receive a total of $438 million as a result of the settlements of all three disputes.”