Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal for revitalizing upstate has people in Saratoga Springs as confused as ever about the future of non-Indian casinos in the region.
As part of an economic development effort in upstate, known as Market NY, up to three casinos are to be located somewhere in upstate, the governor said in his State of the State address Wednesday. The sites will be suggested by operators who bid for the contracts and the final decision will rest with the state’s upcoming Gaming Commission, which combines the state’s Racing and Wagering Board with the Division of Lottery.
The proposed constitutional amendment to legalize non-Indian casinos would allow seven, pending second legislative passage in the next two years plus approval by the voters.
Assemblyman Tony Jordan, R-Jackson represents the city of Saratoga Springs, where there is a racino, which offers harness racing and electronic slot machines, and a thoroughbred race course. He said the governor’s new plan left a lot of unanswered questions.
The latest developments, Jordan said, didn’t discuss the relationship the new casinos will have with the horse industry, which receives economic support from the state’s nine racinos. Nor did it address how racinos, like the one in Saratoga Springs, will figure into this new landscape, or how host communities would benefit from a casino, as racinos generate a payment to the hosting municipality.
He said his concerns about the ambiguity are shared by other businesses and elected officials in Saratoga County.
It is expected that one of the upstate non-Indian casinos will go to the Catskills and speculation is rife on the other two.
James Featherstonhaugh, president of the New York Gaming Association, which represents the nine racinos, didn’t have much to say about the governor’s plan. In a statement he would only tout the economic benefits the state has already received from racino operators, including $3.8 billion in education aid since 2004 and about $1 billion this year.
The racinos are now reviewing Cuomo’s proposal, Featherstonhaugh said, and they are ready to continue their partnership with New York.
Despite this outlook, Cuomo argued that the state doesn’t fully capitalize on its gambling opportunities and he wants to create resort destination casinos to revitalize upstate. “I believe casinos in upstate New York would be a great magnet to bring the New York City traffic up,” Cuomo said.
In an Assembly hearing at the end of 2012, Featherstonhaugh rejected the idea of creating resort destination casinos outside of Las Vegas. He said that most people simply prefer convenience gambling within a short drive of 45 minutes.
Cuomo’s Market NY plan for upstate New York also includes the creation of a national white water rafting competition in the Adirondacks, a $5 million prize for the best regional marketing plan and the creation of duty free stores that sell products grown and made in the state.
State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, was encouraged by these programs, which could highlight some of the hidden gems of the region. “People have no idea what upstate is all about,” he said.
One of the products the duty free stores are designed to promote is Greek-style yogurt, which is manufactured by Fage in Fulton County.
The Capital Region’s high-tech industries could also benefit from Cuomo’s proposed innovation network and venture capital fund, said Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy. He predicted that these initiatives would take advantage of existing companies in the region, like General Electric and GlobalFoundries.
State legislators, businesses, local governments and school districts all had something to be excited about in the speech, but they were all unanimously disappointed by a missing topic.
“There were two words that he should have uttered and that was ‘mandate relief,’” said Seward. “Mandate relief more than anything will help our local governments and local property tax payers. I was disappointed.”
Seward, who felt the rest of the governor’s talk was wildly ambitious and mostly promising, hopes Cuomo will address mandate relief in his budget speech on Jan. 22 or early in the legislative session.