Senate GOP lays out casino plan
CAPITOL At least five upstate casinos, including one in the Capital Region, are envisioned in the Senate Republican siting plan that would accompany a constitutional amendment allowing seven non-indian live-table casinos in New York.
The legislation released Thursday goes beyond anything laid out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has roughly sketched out a plan for an initial round of three upstate casinos, which would be located in four possible regions. This latest plan from state Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, who has been tapped to lead his conference on this issue, outlines a process for selecting seven casino sites and operators by the end of 2020.
A staggered process of awarding the licenses would begin Jan. 1, 2014, with the third license awarded as soon as the summer of 2014. The fourth license could be awarded starting July 2015 and the fifth license in July 2016. The final two licenses couldn’t be awarded until 2019.
The legislation says sites and operators would be selected through a bidding process that would be overseen by a committee assembled by the state’s Gaming Commission. Bids would be considered for their potential regional economic impact, the predicted number of jobs directly created, the operator’s track record, a proposed effective tax rate, local support and other factors.
The selection process and the bid criteria are similar to what the governor has proposed.
Potential regions for casinos in the Senate Republican plan differ from what Cuomo has proposed. The Senate legislation puts the first casino in the Catskills, the second in the Southern Tier, the third in the Capital Region and the fourth in a smaller portion of the Catskills. A fifth casino would go in western New York or the Catskills and the sixth and seventh casinos could potentially go in Queens or Westchester counties, with other possibilities emerging before the license is awarded.
When asked whether she preferred the plan from the governor or her Senate colleagues, state Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, said, “Any plan that delivers a casino to Saratoga County … is one that I will support.”
Neither plan would guarantee a casino for Saratoga County.
Marchione, other local state legislators and the chamber of commerce have supported legislation that would give live-table games to the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, which offers harness racing and electronic gambling. “Saratoga is ready to hit the ground running with an expansion plan that creates new jobs, grows our local economy and promotes regional tourism and economic development,” she said. “Saratoga is the logical choice, the practical choice, the best choice, for a new casino.”
The Assembly has not released its own siting plan, but Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Yonkers Democrat and chairman of the Assembly Democrats, said earlier this month that he supported a plan similar to the one advanced by Bonacic.
Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, said his conference hasn’t talked about this issue in its private meetings, but expected it to come up before the end of the session on June 20. If the state does move forward with non-Indian live-table casinos, he said it would be important for the state Legislature to set tax rates so it’s clear what the potential benefit will be to the state and local communities.
Cuomo’s plan would let the bidders propose their tax rates and the Senate Republican plan would require the Gaming Commission to propose a minimum tax rate for the state Legislature to approve.
The Senate Republican plan would use 80 percent of the state’s gaming revenue to fund education, like the governor has proposed, but would use the other 20 percent specifically for property tax relief.
Regional off-track betting corporations also could be eligible for electronic gaming akin to what is available at the state’s nine racinos. But based on conditions in the bill, the only regional OTB that would qualify is in Suffolk County, which is a power base for the Senate Republicans.
The bill also says only Sullivan County would be allowed more than one casino; the state could revoke a casino license if an operator missed a construction schedule; and the state is responsible for ensuring that horse breeders and racing purses continue to be subsidized at current levels.