Queens County would get one of seven casinos under a plan advanced by Senate Republicans.
State Sen. John Bonacic, a Republican from Orange County and the chamber’s point person on all gambling issues, revealed a few glimpses on Tuesday morning of legislation he has written that would implement a casino constitutional amendment, which will allow up to seven live-table non-Indian casinos in New York. The proposal, he said, is designed to engage Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been negotiating the implementation of casinos in private meetings with the legislative leaders.
“We’re trying to get him to be more engaged,” Bonacic said of his proposal. The governor has said only that he initially wants three upstate casinos, with operators and locations selected by the state’s Gaming Commission.
Bonacic argued that more specifics need to be revealed, including the regions that would host all seven casinos, in order for the amendment to be approved by voters in a public referendum. “In order for the voters to vote intelligently, they need transparency,” he said.
The state Legislature first approved the amendment in 2012. It must do so again this year before the proposal can go to voters.
In remarks at a gambling forum Tuesday morning in Albany, Bonacic indicated that the seven regions identified in his plan have unemployment rates ranging from 8.5 percent to 10.5 percent. He said Queens County is one of the regions and the Catskills, with its proximity to New York City’s population, is a “prime” area for a casino.
He said his seven regions will not include Manhattan, Staten Island, the Bronx, Brooklyn or Long Island.
Under Bonacic’s plan, it would be up to the state’s Gaming Commission to identify specific casino operators and locations, within the regions chosen by the state Legislature. “We’re giving [the Gaming Commission] a region to play in,” he said.
Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Democrat from Yonkers and the Assembly’s point person on gambling issues, took issue with the governor’s insistence that having the Gaming Commission handle the selection process was preferable because it took the “politics” out of the process. “You can’t take the politics out of politics because it is politics,” he said.
Pretlow agreed with Bonacic that the state Legislature should identify regions and called Queens a “viable” location. He added that he was lobbying for a similar plan.
An initial rollout of three upstate casinos is included in Bonacic’s plan, but unlike Cuomo, he would also provide a staggered timeline for awarding the final four operations. He suggested awarding the final four licenses one after another at six-to-nine-month intervals but offered few other details.
Tax rates on potential casinos would likely be addressed by the Gaming Commission under Bonacic’s plan. He said the Gaming Commission would do the homework on this issue and the state Legislature would approve the rates.
Pretlow added that the tax rates for a live-table casino need to be lower than the rates paid by the racinos, which is nearly 70 percent. The contrast, he explained, is the range of winning odds for live-table games. “We’re not going to get a bidder ... until they know what the tax rate is,” he said.
Bonacic and Pretlow both noted the positive records of the state’s nine racinos, which are lobbying to evolve to live-table games from electronic gaming options.
James Featherstonhaugh, president of the New York State Gaming Association, which represents the nine racinos, said his members could have a shot to become casinos in a competitive bid process, depending on the process.