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Casinos a good bet to return to the Albany table
ALBANY — Casino gambling temporarily fell below the political radar, swept aside by the elections and superstorm Sandy.
But it won't stay there for long.
Casino advocates and their opponents already are stepping up their political efforts in advance of the Jan. 9 kickoff of the state legislative session.
Pro-gambling forces are honing their message that the state's $1 billion deficit, combined with the economic impact of Sandy, strengthens their bid to get the legislature to authorize a constitutional amendment to allow up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos — an initiative Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo backs strongly.
Voters would have to approve the amendment in a statewide referendum, likely in November 2013.
Further, owners of existing "racinos" -- horse racing tracks that feature video slot machines — are lobbying now to let the slots run 24 hours a day at some locations — especially Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park and Yonkers Raceway, where they currently are limited to 18 hours a day.
Racinos also would like to add electronic games, such as blackjack and poker. Their pitch: More money for them means more money for the state — roughly $125 million — which gets a percentage of racino revenues.
"We believe a different mix of games would produce substantially more revenue for the state," said James Featherstonhaugh, head of the New York Gaming Association, the racinos' lobby group.
On the other side, the Oneida Nation, which has a lucrative casino in central New York, has helped bankroll a movement to demand that any new casino gain approval in a local — not statewide — referendum.
Michael Tobman, a former aide to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and head of New Yorkers for Local Approval of Casinos, has said host communities should have more of a say in the siting of casinos.
Another group, the Coalition Against Gambling in New York, says it fears budget pressures of Sandy will jump-start another gambling expansion in the state — just like after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, when the racinos were approved.
Cuomo has said that Sandy hasn't made much impact on tax receipts and that he doesn't think the storm will influence the gambling debate.