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In a proposal with statewide implications, NYC Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn), a possible candidate for NYC public advocate next year, is calling for assurance of local votes to accompany any siting process for non-Indian casinos, if and when the Constitution is amended to allow for it.
Her statement, in large part:
“While of course my top priority is New York City government having approval on whether a casino will be sited within our five boroughs, this is really an issue for local governments throughout New York State,” said Councilwoman James. “This is about Steuben County as well as Staten Island, Greene County as much as Fort Greene, Lewis County alongside Lefrak City, Clinton County alongside Chelsea, Herkimer County with Harlem, Monroe County sharing worries with Middle Village, and Montgomery County having a voice same as Morrisania.”
"New York has begun the process of amending its constitution to allow up to seven new full-scale privately owned, non-Indian casinos. A statewide referendum question followed by the vote of two successive state legislatures is required to amend the state constitution. “The referendum ballot presented to voters can be a thinly worded “yes or no” question with the details of what is an enormously complicated issue to be worked out later,” Tish pointed out.
“New York is too vast and too diverse to have one heavily skewed statewide vote and legislative politics as the only say on whether a full-scale casino should open near our homes, schools, public housing, places of worship, and nursing homes. Language providing for a controlling vote of local governments must be included in the legislation considered after the referendum vote, if not also in the referendum question itself,” Councilwoman James added. “The vote of a local legislative body, wherever a casino is proposed in New York State, should be part of this process.”
New York State’s population of just under 19.5 million is heavily concentrated in New York City and its suburbs, with over 12.5 million people living in the five boroughs, Long Island, and the northern suburbs of Westchester, Rockland, Orange, and Putnam counties. This focus of population is reflected in the legislature — 40 of the 63 seats in the State Senate and over 90 of the 150 seats in the State Assembly are filled by these “downstate” areas.
Currently, full scale casinos in New York are only allowed on Native American territories, which are considered separate sovereign nations.
“If you live anywhere in the Southern Tier, Western New York, Central New York, Capital Region, or the North Country — how could a process that doesn’t include a local vote be considered fair?,” Tish pointed out. “If you’re a Nassau County Town Supervisor or Suffolk County Legislator, how will your communities account for the city population? And here in the city, we’re already worried about the enormously influential block of Republican State Senators in Long Island. A required vote by local government would go a long way to addressing these concerns.”
“This is as much about what’s best for New York City as it is about the legitimate role of local government in such a vital and consequential issue,” the Councilwoman concluded.