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Politics and Government

Cuomo: Voters will decide whether gambling expands in New York

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo says it’s now up to the voters to decide whether they want to expand gambling in New York. He’s signed into law a plan to build casinos upstate, but the public must approve a change in the state’s constitution in order for it to move forward.   

The new law permits up to four gambling casinos in upstate New York, as long as a referendum on November’s ballot is approved to amend the state’s constitution to allow the expanded gambling.

Cuomo says it will be up to the voters to decide.

“That’s going to be up to the people of the state,” Cuomo said, noting that gambling is a controversial  issue.

Polls show New Yorkers remain evenly divided on whether allowing more casino gambling in the state is a good idea or not.   

Cuomo says it’s not a matter of whether to allow gambling in New York. He says it’s already here; there are several Indian run casinos and racinos, with slot machines, at numerous horse racing tracks. The neighboring states of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey all offer casino gambling.

“It’s not really a question of gaming or not gaming,” Cuomo said. “We have gaming. Whether we like it or not, we’re there.”  

The governor says approving the referendum would allow the state to better manage gambling and maximize potential revenues and economic impact. He has not yet said whether he will personally promote the gambling referendum.

Cuomo was in Niagara Falls to highlight a $139 million settlement with the Seneca Indian Nation over gambling and other issues. Part of the agreement gives the tribe continued exclusive rights to operating casinos in western New York. There have been similar settlements with the Oneidas in central New York and the Mohawks in the North Country. So, if voters approve the referendum, the casinos would be built in the Albany region, likely near Saratoga, the Southern Tier and in the Catskills.

The governor has branded the legislation the “Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act” and says he hopes to establish “world-class destination gaming resorts” to bring jobs and boost local economies.

But not everyone thinks it’s the best solution to upstate’s continued lagging economy.

EJ McMahon, president of the fiscally conservative think tank the Empire Center, says the building of resort-style casinos won’t generate as many jobs as some other industries, like opening up the state’s vast shale resources to hydrofracking.

“He’s stalling the approval of regulations that would allow something that no question would boost the economies of the parts of upstate New York that are the weakest,” McMahon said.

McMahon says no one seriously believes that the new gambling casinos would be significant economic boost.

Cuomo has yet to make a decision on whether to allow hydrofracking to move forward, saying he’s waiting for his Health Commissioner to finish a study. The state has been considering the gas drilling process for more than five years.

As if to underscore the state’s continuing economic problems, Cuomo and other top state elected officials, including Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, issued a press release condemning a decision by the new owners of Bausch and Lomb to relocate the company’s headquarters from Rochester, to New Jersey. They say moving the 160-year-old company from its original location will result in potentially massive job losses.