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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo committed Thursday to holding a statewide referendum on casino expansion this fall, after considering waiting until 2014. His plan would also give new upstate casinos a five-year head start on any downstate competitors.
The governor reinforced his commitment to limiting casino expansion to areas north of New York City’s northern suburbs for now. He wants to authorize three upstate gambling facilities and give them time to flourish before facing downstate competition.
His plan puts him at odds with some state legislators who contend an upstate-only casino plan would fail at the ballot box. With the New York City mayoral race dominating elections in 2013, voters there would have little reason to back a casino referendum that focuses on upstate, they figure.
Cuomo recently acknowledged that factor and said he was weighing delaying the vote until 2014, when he and other statewide officials are up for election. But he dropped that idea Thursday.
“My opinion is it's not worth putting off another year,” the governor said.
Asked how he would “sell” the proposal to downstate voters, Cuomo said upstate casinos would help the state’s coffers and generate more school aid for all locales.
Though gambling money is technically earmarked for education, studies have shown it is effectively fungible, commingling with other state funds.
Rank-and-file lawmakers in 2012 approved a resolution to amend the state constitution to create up to seven new non-Indian-run casinos. That resolution must be approved again this year, then voters must support in a statewide referendum before any casinos can go forward.
Cuomo threw a curveball earlier this year when he proposed splitting casino development into two phases, first creating three upstate gambling facilities and putting off further expansion.
A number of upstate legislators, while backing casino expansion, have said Cuomo’s idea is too narrow to garner enough statewide support to win passage.
Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) have said they think downstate locations should be part of the mix.
The state already has numerous gambling venues. There are nine video slot machine parlors — dubbed “racinos" — that operate at horse tracks, including Aqueduct in Queens and Yonkers Raceway. The Seneca Nation runs three casinos in Western New York. The Oneida Nation has a casino near Utica and the Mohawks operate a casino and a giant bingo hall in northern New York near the St. Lawrence River.