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With NY revenue ailing, casinos pitch gambling expansion

Then-Gov. David A. Paterson, at a town hall

Then-Gov. David A. Paterson, at a town hall meeting in Brooklyn, on March 8, 2010. Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY — Former Gov. David A. Paterson returned to the State Capitol Tuesday as part of an effort by a Las Vegas gambling company to open up bidding for a downstate casino — as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo threw more cold water on the idea of any gambling expansion.

Paterson, who led New York from 2008-10, is part of an advisory board set up by Las Vegas Sands, which is trying to persuade lawmakers to lift a moratorium that prohibits downstate casinos until at least 2023. The former governor recently signed a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators asking them to open up bidding.

Paterson’s entry into the fray is one of many moving pieces involving casinos and other forms of gambling as state lawmakers are trying to finalize a state budget amid a revenue shortfall.

Upstate casinos are preparing to offer sports betting to customers who visit in person. But some lawmakers want to expand the law to allow online and mobile wagering. Sands and other casinos want legislators to lift the 2023 moratorium. MGM, which operates video slots and racetracks at Yonkers, and Genting, which does the same at Aqueduct, want to convert their facilities to full-fledged casinos with table games.

Sands' effort in New York has drawn fire from progressive groups who cite the company's opposition to labor unions in its Nevada casinos. They also have criticized Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson heavy political giving to President Donald Trump.

Cuomo, who successfully campaigned for a referendum creating the four upstate casinos in 2013, has been cool to the idea of further expansion. But that hasn’t stopped the lobbying push at the Capitol.

Paterson said lifting the moratorium would provide “increased participation for women- and minority-owned businesses and increase jobs for New Yorkers who can turn these jobs into careers.” Further, if New York allows downstate casinos, it should reject Yonkers’ and Aqueduct’s pitch to merely allow it to expand and instead fully open up bidding, Paterson said.

 The moratorium was meant to protect the four upstate casinos from losing business to New York City-based gambling. But with all of them falling short of revenue projections, they have indicated they would be willing to relax the moratorium as long as they receive a prorated refund for their license fees and a share of future slot machine revenue. Upstate casino operators met with legislators Monday to make that pitch.

Cuomo on Tuesday reiterated his reluctance to revisit the casino moratorium for now, repeating it was put in place to help protect the upstate gambling venues. 

"I am very skeptical about some casino deal put together by casino operators promising billions of dollars and everybody is happy," Cuomo told reporters. 

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