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Pro-gambling forces spent $3.85M on state casino campaign

OTB and Delaware North are working to finalize

OTB and Delaware North are working to finalize site selection and undertake construction for what OTB officials concede now is an unlikely September casino opening. This slot machine was getting a workout on July 27, 2012, at Resort World Casino in Jamaica, Queens. Credit: Nancy Borowick

ALBANY -- Backed by unions and race tracks, pro-gambling forces spent nearly $4 million in the final days of a successful campaign to convince New Yorkers to amend the state constitution to allow seven new, Las Vegas-style casinos, records show.

They poured $1.4 million into TV ads over the 10 days leading up to Election Day and hit residents with $1.2 million worth of mailings -- most of which said that Proposition 1 on the ballot was about jobs and school aid, not casinos.

They also polled New Yorkers furiously, spending about $560,000 to tout the benefits of gambling.

After sitting quietly most of the fall, the New York Jobs Now Committee -- the fundraising committee created specifically to promote the casino amendment -- spent $3.85 million during the campaign's home stretch, according to records filed with the state Board of Elections.

New Yorkers approved the amendment 57 percent to 43 percent. That clears the way for the state to add to the five Indian-run casinos and nine "racinos" -- horse race tracks with video slot machines -- already available. The casino legislation also authorized Nassau and Suffolk counties to open video-slots parlors.

Gambling opponents -- who during the campaign complained that the rosy wording of the casino proposition promising more jobs and more school aid was unfair -- said the high spending shows the deck was stacked against them.

"Just imagine if the casino debate was fair and all voters were fully informed about the real costs and not just the overblown benefits," said Paul Davies of the Institute for American Values.

A spokesman for the New York Jobs Now Committee declined to comment.

The lone anti-casino committee, the Committee Against Proposition 1, spent just $115,000 during the homestretch.

Under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's plan, casino development would be split in two phases, with the first four gambling venues limited to upstate. After about seven years, competition for the three remaining licenses would open.

The pro-gambling political committee raised $2.1 million for its campaign in the final days -- with donations split between unions and potential casino developers.

Among the largest contributions to the committee, the Hotel Workers for a Stronger Middle Class union political action committee gave $270,000, Malaysia-based gambling giant Genting gave $250,000, Yonkers Raceway $250,000, a carpenters' union $225,000, and Caesar's Entertainment of Las Vegas $100,000.

Companies that make gambling machines also donated: IGT and Scientific Games Corp. each gave $50,000 and Bally donated $25,000.

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