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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Casino gambling looms over NYC mayoral race

There are more than 4,000 video lottery terminals

There are more than 4,000 video lottery terminals spread out across the two floors of the Resort World Casino in Jamaica, Queens. (July 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Nancy Borowick

Against the backdrop of the first incumbent-free New York City mayoral race in 12 years looms a statewide vote on whether to expand casino gambling beyond its current locales at racetracks and Indian reservations.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has expressed measured confidence that New Yorkers will decide in favor, declared his post-primary support last week for Democrat Bill de Blasio for mayor.

But the elected public advocate, now the front-runner for mayor, has yet to say if he'd side with the governor on this potentially high-stakes move -- on which Cuomo is pinning part of his economic development strategy, particularly upstate."He's studying the issue," said a source close to de Blasio. No time frame was available on when the candidate might craft a position on the ballot question, to appear as Proposal One.

Now, if the proposed constitutional amendment -- supported by Cuomo and leading lawmakers -- wins approval, its immediate impact would be upstate, not in the city, for at least seven years.

"It's kind of far removed from where New York City is at, generally speaking, and wouldn't affect us anytime in the near future, so that may be a reason to not have skin in the game," said another elected Democrat, who declined to be identified. A consultant added the referendum has yet to show up in polls.

But de Blasio's rivals aren't hedging. Their campaigns gave positions on its potential economic import.

Republican candidate Joe Lhota, the former MTA chairman, supports the proposal, said campaign spokeswoman Jessica Proud. Down the road, the state legislature would need to weigh where casinos might be sited. "If and when the city is permitted to host a casino, his requirements [for support] would be that it is close to ample mass transit, has adequate parking and is away from neighborhoods," Proud said.

Lhota differs on this from state Conservative and GOP leaders, who oppose the amendment, though Senate GOP lawmakers helped put it on the ballot.

Independence Party candidate Adolfo Carrion, the former Bronx borough president, also says "yes," with a different rationale. "The train has already left the station," said Carrion spokesman Donald Kaplan, since casinos already exist in the tri-state area. "It's a matter of personal choice if you want to gamble or not, and you should not have the legislature telling people 'no gambling.' "

Tech businessman Jack Hidary, running on the ad-hoc Jobs and Education line, opposes the amendment, citing "preferred methods" of boosting revenue.

When voters inspect their ballots Nov. 5 they will see the language to be added to the constitution's Section 9 Article 1 -- along with a summary that says the proposed amendment "would allow the legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State."

The goal, the summary says, will be "promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated."

Cuomo has been saying that it requires a "sophisticated argument" to win over skeptics. He told reporters this week: "You have to say, 'Hold on a second. It's not really gambling versus no gambling. I know we have to change the Constitution, but we already have gambling," such as so-called "racinos."

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