Racing and gambling experts gathered in Saratoga Springs on Wednesday agree that live-table non-Indian casino gambling is coming to New York.
The second day of the Albany Law School conference on racing and gambling issues in New York included a chorus of voices betting that the slow march toward seven casinos, which began in earnest with the first passage of a constitutional amendment through the Legislature in spring, will likely conclude with second passage in 2013 or 2014 and approval by voters. That all depends, however, on enacting legislation being passed that resolves big question marks that remain, like where the casinos will be located, what sort of percentage of revenue the state will get, and who will run the casinos.
“There is absolutely no way the amendment could … pass on a referendum if it went the way it is,” said New York Gaming Association President James Featherstonhaugh, who advocates on behalf of the state’s nine racinos in their quest to become full-fledged casinos.
He said it is unlikely such a vague referendum would be put before voters, though, as he predicts the Assembly would never pass the amendment a second time without knowing the answers to those questions.
Because of the ambiguity surrounding the future of casinos, key votes in the state Legislature, like Sen. Roy McDonald, are still undecided. He said filling in the details is the next big fight.
“I won’t vote for anything that hurts my tracks,” said McDonald, R-Saratoga, “and I think every vote is going to count.”
State Sen. John Bonacic, a Republican from Mount Hope and chairman of the Senate’s Racing and Wagering Committee, predicted that casinos will become a reality because they are supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The geographic placement of the casinos was a stumbling block that Bonacic harped on, noting that there has been some public call for two casinos to be established in the New York City metropolitan area. He said this push could alter the pace of progress, as seven casinos were approved with the understanding that one would go in the New York City area and six would be left for upstate.
“I have said that if there’s going to be more than one casino in the metropolitan area … then we should not deprive our upstate regions of economic opportunities and we could conceivably before the [general elections] go back and visit that constitutional amendment to kick it up higher than seven,” Bonacic said. “It could be eight or 10, who knows.”
The increased number would be closer to what Senate Republicans had originally advocated for, as he said they had wanted 10 casinos while Silver had wanted six — seven had been Cuomo’s compromise.
Bonacic’s own interest is to get one or more casinos in the mid-Hudson area he represents. As far as placing casinos in western New York, he highlighted the three Indian casinos already in operation there and said the state shouldn’t oversaturate that area.
“Assuming nothing gets done, we go into next year with a lot of intangibles and moving parts. … It is a very difficult process next year,” he added.
As to who might be operating the casinos, Bonacic said the Genting group, which runs electronic gambling at Aqueduct, would likely win a bidding process to run a site somewhere in the state. He also said that the nine racinos in the state would have a competitive edge in a selection process because of their record and monetary investment into their sites.
The unknown variable in predicting who will run the casinos, Bonacic said, is Cuomo’s belief that there are big players interested in creating resort destinations with a casino. “They say they can bring projects in that will be much better than what is there at the casinos. I don’t know if it is true,” he said.