A large majority of New Yorkers would oppose legalizing non-Indian casinos if it’s not clear where they’re going or if the localities aren’t given right of approval, according to a summary of polling data released Thursday.
A second vote from the state Legislature and a statewide referendum are needed in order to implement the constitutional amendment sought by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to create seven non-Indian casinos. The governor has said state legislators and the public will be aware of potential regions for casinos, but not specific sites when they vote on the plan, which could be a stumbling block for the proposal.
New Yorkers for Local Approval of Casinos, a business group supporting local input on whether a casino will be placed in a community, commissioned a poll that found 73 percent of people would vote “no” on a referendum that didn’t disclose the location of a proposed casino or guarantee a local referendum on the question. Only 21 percent said they would support the constitutional amendment without this information or approval power.
The opposition is spread among voters across the state, among different political parties and ethnicity.
“Without local control, the amendment’s supporters are left with little path to victory,” Joel Benenson said in the summary memo with the polling data. He is the founding partner of the Benenson Strategy Group, the downstate consulting firm that conducted the poll.
A narrow majority of voters said they’re more likely to vote for the amendment if local communities have the right to approve a casino. One-third of voters believe that the state’s Gaming Commission, without local politics being considered, should decide where casinos are placed.
In Saratoga County there is support for turning the Saratoga Casino & Raceway, which offers electronic gambling machines, into a casino with live table games. Both the county and city governments have passed resolutions in support of this evolution.
Giving live table games to the state’s nine racinos is also supported by Gary Greenberg, minority owner of Vernon Downs Casino and Hotel. “If you have a racino in your community then the next step would be a full casino,” he said. “The communities that have a racino are all supporting the racinos in record numbers.”
Local businesses supporting New Yorkers for Local Approval of Casinos, according to their website, include Arterial Lanes in Gloversville, Hill Top Bed & Breakfast in Fort Plain and the Turf House Grille in Albany.
NYLAC would like to see local approval gauged by countywide referenda, or in the case of New York city, a citywide referendum, according to the group’s advocacy director, Michael Tobman, the principal behind New York City-based consulting group Hudson TG.
“The demographic reality of New York state is a statewide referendum is not truly representative and does not speak for communities,” he said. “It speaks for where the concentration of voters are.”
The poll was paid for by the Oneida Nation, which operates Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona. “There is a significant amount of space between the nation and NYLAC,” said Tobman, who noted that NYLAC is divided on the issue of expanding live table gaming in the state. The Oneida Nation like NYLAC supports local input on the siting of non-Indian casinos but has not stated its position on their legalization.
The poll was conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group, which interviewed 500 registered voters between Feb. 12 and 14. The data has a 4 percentage point margin of error and a confidence level of 95 percent.