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GOP gambling bill: 5 upstate casinos, LI OTB video slots

Senate Republicans have put their weight behind a

Senate Republicans have put their weight behind a bill to authorize up to five new upstate casinos over the next four years and video slot machines at off-track betting facilities on Long Island. Above, video lottery terminals in Resorts World Casino in Jamaica, Queens. (July 27, 2012) Credit: Nancy Borowick

ALBANY - Countering a proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Republicans put their weight behind a bill to authorize up to five new upstate casinos over the next four years and video slot machines at off-track betting facilities on Long Island.

The GOP's proposal, outlined in a bill unveiled Thursday, puts Long Island in play as lawmakers try to agree on gambling expansion proposals before the end of the legislative session on June 20, legislators said.

Cuomo has called for splitting casino development into two phases. He wants to build just three casinos upstate first, giving them a five-year exclusivity period before authorizing more.

The Republican plan would place three casinos in the Catskills, the home of the major sponsor of the bill, state Sen. John Bonacic (Mount Hope). It would provide another casino in the Southern Tier and one in the Capital Region.

On Long Island, it would green-light one new video slot machine parlor in Nassau County and one in Suffolk County. Supporters said it would allow Long Island to share in the state's move to expand gambling, even if casino development is limited to upstate.

"Let's keep the Long Islanders who use gaming machines on Long Island, and use those revenues to help to shore up the finances of our struggling local governments," state Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) said in a statement.

Boyle had sponsored a separate bill to allow video lottery terminals on the Island. He said its inclusion in the broader casino bill was a "giant step."

Bonacic's bill also would authorize casinos in Westchester County and Queens -- after 2018. Further, it would create a "Belmont revitalization fund" for the racetrack and surrounding community driven by proceeds from any Queens facility.

The bill comes as Cuomo and lawmakers prepare to take up two major pieces of casino legislation next month.

First, the legislature is expected to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to authorize up to seven non-Indian-run casinos in New York. Then, it likely will vote on legislation to say where the initial casinos would be located.

New York voters would have to approve the constitutional amendment in a referendum this fall before any casinos could go forward.

A key lawmaker said the Democrat-dominated Assembly would block the proposal to build video slot machine parlors in Nassau and Suffolk.

"It will not go through my house and I don't think Gov. Cuomo would approve it," said Assemb. Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon), chairman of the Racing and Wagering Committee. He said allowing Long Island off-track betting parlors to host VLTs would trigger other OTB operations around the state to ask for the same, undermining the casino development idea.

Cuomo administration officials didn't immediately comment. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said only that the Bonacic proposal was one of several under consideration.Long Island officials back the VLT expansion.

"This legislation will help raise money for local schools and generate revenue so that Nassau can continue to hold the line on county property taxes," Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said in an email.

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