Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's plan to expand casino gambling is starting to look particularly cunning: Even if he doesn't get full table games at non-Indian casinos, the attempt will still increase the pot of state revenue. In exchange for being granted gambling monopolies in their regions, the Oneida Indian Nation and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe have agreed to pay taxes they have long disputed, and the Senecas may be nearing an agreement too.
Still, he's cheating the downstate region.
Cuomo this week released the specifics of his proposal, which calls for just three non-Indian casinos, all upstate, each paying a minimum of $50 million for a license and 25 percent of their proceeds in taxes. Additional casinos would be postponed for five years for Long Island and Westchester and banned in New York City. And the Seneca Nation, which the state says owes it $600 million in taxes on its three casinos, would see its territory encroached by another casino and two more video-lottery parlors if it does not come to terms with the state.
Cuomo argues that downstate casinos would deter upstate development. But if that's true now, it would be just as true in five years -- which makes the buffer period look like a grab for $50 million in fees and for construction projects that would be devalued by downstate casinos later. And barring casinos downstate would make it harder to get approval of the legal changes needed from both legislators and voters.
There are good things in this bill. Contributions by casinos to elected officials would be prohibited, and the committee that picks the sites and plans would be pretty close to nonpartisan.
Anything can happen in the final days of the legislative session in Albany, and odds are good that a few more cards will be played. Still, it's not surprising that in his dealing with the tribes, Cuomo found a way to make the casino deal pay whether it's a winner or not.