Statewide vote on casinos might be delayed until 2014

A public referendum on a constitutional amendment to allow up to seven live-table, non-Indian casino

A public referendum on a constitutional amendment to allow up to seven live-table, non-Indian casinos could be pushed back until next year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during his cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Delaying the issue is under consideration because a majority of the state’s electorate this November is expected to come from New York City, which isn’t getting any of the three initial casinos under a plan laid out by the governor. Cuomo acknowledged the possibility that New York City voters might oppose the amendment, which would allow up to seven live-table, non-Indian casinos, because they don’t have a vested interest in the planned first round of casinos.

The mayoral election in New York City this year is expected to raise turnout there compared to the rest of the state. In 2014, when every congressional, Assembly and state Senate representative is up for election, the turnout is expected to be more even.

“That has been raised as a problem. … It’s a legitimate issue,” Cuomo said of the 2013 turnout.

A recent Siena College poll found mixed opinions, with 50 percent of New York City voters opposing the constitutional amendment and 48 percent supporting three casinos in upstate. State-wide, support for the amendment narrowly edged out opposition.

When asked whether he was open to pushing the casino referendum back to 2014, Cuomo said, “That would be an option … that I would be open to.”

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The position from the governor came one day after a closed door meeting with legislative leaders on the siting of casinos. The governor characterized the conversation as direct and extensive. He said there is still plenty of time in the legislative session, which ends in June, for an agreement on the selection process for three upstate casinos.

In Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, state Director of Operations Howard Glaser outlined some of the remaining issues, including the tax rate for the casinos, an investment requirement by the casino operator, employment guarantees and the impact of casinos on racing.

The tax rate issue is a big question mark at this point, as the rates for casinos in the nation vary from below 7 percent in Las Vegas to almost 70 percent for the state’s nine racinos. Until this issue is resolved, it is not clear how the state and local communities would benefit from taxing the casinos.

It’s possible that the enacting legislation would establish criteria that potential casino operators would need to address in bids for casinos.

Cuomo has maintained he wants the ultimate selection to rest with an independent body overseen by the state’s Gaming Commission. The governor reiterated on Wednesday his opposition to any different selection process.

Cuomo added that local input might play a role in the siting process, although he wasn’t sure whether it would simply sweeten an area’s chances of being chosen or whether a local government would be able to veto a casino.

Laying out his own vision for where casinos should go, the governor said they should be part of establishing a resort destination that could energize a region’s economy.

If a criteria in siting upstate casinos is that they’re in a region that needs revitalizing, Saratoga County, which has lobbied for a casino, could be out of luck. Saratoga County consistently has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state.

Despite this, when asked about Saratoga Springs and Lake George competing for a casino, Cuomo said the choice will be made based on the best plan.

For the referendum to be voted on this year, it likely needs to pass the state Legislature for a second time by the end of June. The first passage was last year.

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