A year ago, anticipation about the establishment of three downstate casinos was just beginning to grow. Billions of dollars in investment, game-changing economic activity and enormous tax revenue implications were on the line. Communities considered the effects of a casino on their neighborhoods. Small businesses wondered how they could benefit. Local governments began to balance the possible impacts — good and bad.
As everyone anxiously waited for the official process to begin, they assumed an energetic, competitive effort would take off, ultimately leading to the award of the three coveted casino licenses. The Gaming Facility Location Board unveiled its application in January. But since then, the process has been anything but energetic.
The state board spent 208 days answering 613 questions from prospective applicants. That's less than three questions per day. Some answers were thoughtful, helpful to the applicants, even insightful. But much of the Q&A contained simplistic and incomplete responses on trivial topics — like how much detail applicants should include in their submissions. The unsurprising and relatively unhelpful answer: "the most detailed information possible."
If first impressions matter, the lengthy delay combined with the responses themselves don't instill optimism. It shouldn't have taken this long. A set of simple rules and guidelines on everything from the size of the paper for submissions to whether Eastern Standard Time applies for deadlines could have been established at the start by the board. And it bodes badly for the process to come. If the state can't complete this first step in a timely and thorough fashion, how will the next steps proceed? How is the board going to navigate the Community Advisory Committee process — for which there are still no guidelines? And how is it going to manage the actual decision-making? The state has to do better.
This rocky start doesn't exist in a vacuum. The state also is navigating a miserable rollout to licensing retail locations for recreational marijuana sales and has had difficulty with its handling of housing policies and the migrant crisis. That context gives us pause about competence in Albany as we await the next steps in licensing these casinos.
The state gaming location board has a chance to reset. Applicants have until Oct. 6 to submit a second set of questions. The board should use these next weeks to evaluate staffing and resources and make sure it's prepared to respond far more quickly. The rest of the process should be conducted in an open, efficient way.
Everyone is watching, opponents and supporters alike. Competitors for the licenses can't reveal their plans until the process moves forward. Municipalities and public agencies cannot predict when the needed tax revenues will flow.
The state owes it to all of them to get this right.
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