New York appears closer to saying, “Deal me in!”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday his administration is “actively” weighing how to legalize commercial, non-Indian casinos, saying it's time New Yorkers “come to grips” with the issue.
“You have gaming in the state, and neighboring states. So it’s really not an issue anymore of, 'Well, if we don’t officially sanction it as a government, it’s not going to happen.' It’s happening,” he said.
Getting it done, however, will be an uphill battle requiring a change in the state constitution, although Cuomo’s blessing would improve the odds of it passing, observers said.
“We saw with our last legislative session how [Cuomo] pushed several issues through, so his support would be serious momentum,” said state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who favors gaming in his Queens district at the Aqueduct Racetrack, where the Resorts World Casino New York is expected to open by October.
While casinos in New York operated by certain Indian tribes can offer table games, gaming halls located at racetracks – also known as “racinos” – are prohibited from having similarly live gaming. However, electronic table games and video lottery terminals, akin to slots, are legal.
Addabbo said he supports full-fledged gaming because it would create jobs and boost revenue for the state lottery, which subsidizes public education.
New York’s financially struggling neighbors have cashed in on gaming. Pennsylvania has opened 10 casinos since 2006, raking in more than $81 million in tax revenue from table games alone last fiscal year.
Still, legalizing commercial casinos will be onerous: Two consecutive legislative sessions in Albany would need to pass pro-casino bills, and then the measure must also be approved in a statewide referendum.
The chairs of the Assembly and Senate racing and wagering committees said they want to develop legislation to legalize casinos, and a bill could be introduced as soon as next year. Senate Wagering Chairman John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope) will host three statewide hearings on the issue next month.
Expect heavy lobbying on both sides.
Genting New York, the developer of Resorts World in Queens, is reportedly spending about $1 million annually on lobbyists.
“The market is definitely underserved … and we could be keeping players who normally spend their money out of state here,” said Resorts World President CEO Michael Speller.
The money, however, isn’t worth the potential crime and gambling addiction that could spike, said the Rev. Jason McGuire, president of New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation.
“We’re preying on desperate people,” he said.
It’s unclear how far Cuomo is delving into the issue, but pols said he must determine whether allowing casinos statewide or only in certain markets would give New York the best economic boost.
Lucy Dadayan, a senior policy analyst at the SUNY Rockefeller Institute of Government, warned that the pool of gamblers is only so big, and revenue growth can’t be sustained as the market gets saturated with gaming.
“It’s an easy way of generating revenues, but it’s not necessarily a healthy way of doing it,” Dadayan said.
Sasha Lagombra, of Ozone Park, said New York casinos would be a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike.
"New York has such potential to get so much revenue from casinos," Lagombra, 20, said. "If it was in Times Square, that would be ideal.”
Big Apple gaming
The Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens will be home to the city’s first “racino,” scheduled to open this fall. Other locations have been floated as potential gaming sites over the years.
Why it’s a good idea: With its own boardwalk and beach, it has resources to rival Atlantic City.
Why it’s a tough bet: Past efforts to bring legalized gambling there failed, and officials already have redevelopment plans in the works.
Why it’s a good idea: Some officials have supported bringing casinos there to boost the local economy.
Why it’s a tough bet: With Queens already boasting a casino project at Aqueduct, another one may over-saturate the market.
Why it’s a good idea: A casino in the heart of the city could add to the entertainment already available to visitors.
Why it’s a tough bet: Would likely attract strong opposition from pols, community boards and preservationists wary about crime and traffic.
Why it’s a good idea: It’s secluded enough from Manhattan and already draws tourists.
Why it’s a tough bet: It would take a major effort to put one there. Casinos were expressly prohibited when the feds transferred the island over to the state in 2003.
Nearest casinos to New York City
New York state
Empire City Casino
Location: Yonkers Raceway
Distance from midtown: 30 minutes
Turning Stone Resort and Casino
Location: Verona (Oneida Indian Nation)
Distance: 4 hours, 41 min.
Distance: 2 hours, 55 min.
Distance: 2 hours 42 min.
Location: Atlantic City
Opened: First casino debuted in 1978
Distance: 2 hours, 15 min.
Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem
Distance: 1 hour, 34 min.