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State leaders: Casinos should be considered for LI, NYC, too

Governor Andrew Cuomo gives his State of the

Governor Andrew Cuomo gives his State of the State message in the Convention Center of the Empire State Plaza in Albany. (Jan. 9, 2013) Credit: Albany Times Union

ALBANY -- State legislative leaders aren't embracing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposal to limit new casinos to three upstate locations, saying Long Island and New York City should be in the mix.

Cuomo huddled with Senate and Assembly leaders for about 90 minutes Wednesday to discuss casinos and other issues. Afterward they said talks on an expansion of gambling were still "evolving." But legislators said they aren't sold yet on restricting new casinos to upstate sites only, as the governor outlined in his state budget proposal.

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said a possible casino on Long Island "will be part of the discussion" -- and specifically mentioned Belmont Park. "I know that Belmont is one of the areas where there have been no VLTs, unlike other tracks throughout the state," Skelos said, referring to video lottery terminals, a type of video slot machine available at other thoroughbred and harness racing tracks, including Aqueduct. "That has to be part of the discussion."

While Skelos raised the possibility of Belmont, Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), who represents the area around the racetrack, has been opposed to locating a casino there. Martins recently has backed a soccer stadium for the site.

Skelos said the legislators might want to approve more casinos than Cuomo has proposed. It could be "more than three, sure," Skelos told reporters after the leaders' meeting.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has said "less densely populated" areas of New York City such as Willets Point and around Aqueduct should be considered.

Last year, lawmakers gave first approval to a constitutional amendment to allow the building of up to seven new non-Indian casinos in the state. To become effective, lawmakers would have to do so again this year, then voters would have to approve it in a statewide referendum, likely in November.

But Cuomo said this month he'd prefer to develop casinos in two stages -- limiting approval this year to just three upstate casinos. He inserted language into his proposed state budget that rules out any area south of Putnam County as a casino site.

He wants a gaming commission he's established to weigh casino-development proposals. The commission, set to be launched Friday, would be run by seven members -- five appointed by the governor.

Cuomo said he and legislative leaders agree that the "actual selection of bids, specific locations, should be left to an independent, nonpolitical body."

Skelos concurred, saying: "I know that, personally for myself, I don't want to deal with vendors," citing the controversy over the selection of bidders to operate video lottery terminals at Aqueduct.

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