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State Supreme Court rejects casino wording suit

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A state Supreme Court judge threw out a lawsuit challenging the wording of a November ballot amendment to expand gambling in New York. Opponents say they will appeal.

Judge Richard Platkin rejected a challenge from a Brooklyn attorney who said the wording of the November ballot amendment, to allow up to seven new gambling casinos in New York, is biased.

The amendment says that the casinos would create jobs, reduce property taxes and help pay for education. The state Board of Elections changed the wording, which critics call spin, from more neutral language initially submitted by the state’s attorney general.  

Attorney Eric Snyder, who brought the case, said during a recent court hearing that the positive language inserted by the Board of Elections is unfair and wrong.

“That’s not their role,” Snyder said.

Platkin said in his ruling that he would not hear the case because Snyder did not bring the lawsuit soon enough. Even though the state Board of Elections did not make the new wording of the casino amendment public until three weeks after they voted on it, Snyder still waited another month before filing his claim. The statute of limitations to file lawsuits on election related cases is 14 days.

Platkin also ruled that the challenge to the positive spin of the ballot wording has no legal merit. He ruled that under state law, the Board of Elections can exercise its own independent judgment and discretion, and it is under no legal duty to accept the advice of the attorney general.

A business and labor coalition formed to promote a yes vote on the new casinos called the lawsuit a needless distraction, and said in a statement that it’s time to move forward.

Business Council of New York State President Heather Briccetti, who is part of the coalition, said recently that she thinks the amendment wording accurately reflects what the gambling expansion will bring to the state.

“I don’t think it’s a rosy picture,” Briccetti said. “It’s just like any other ballot amendment in its wording.”

The New York Public Interest Research Group filed an amicus brief in the case. NYPIRG’s Blair Horner says while the group is neither for nor against gambling, he’s disappointed that some of the questions about how the rosy wording on the ballot came about will now be left unanswered.

“Who got involved with putting their thumb on the scale,” said Horner, who called the ballot question loaded to favor pro-casino interests.

Horner says NYPIRG will work to get new laws passed that would require more public input before ballot questions are approved by the Board of Elections.  

Attorney Eric Snyder plans to file an emergency appeal in the case to a state appellate court.

Time is growing short. Election Day is less than three weeks away and the ballots have already been printed. Many have already been set to absentee and overseas military voters.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.