While we have several concerns about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s overall plan to get New York into the casino gambling game, we’ll grudgingly give him credit for the reasonably well-calculated specifics he finally unveiled Thursday.
They seem to have taken into account a number of contentious issues. One, for example, is how many casinos to start with: Three is a more reasonable number than the seven he ultimately wants. Who knows how easily the state will assimilate the large, full-scale operations Cuomo envisions? With only three on the drawing board to start with, a modicum of control may be possible.
Then, there’s location. At least two of Cuomo’s three designated regions — the Catskills and Southern Tier — could use the economic boost that big construction projects would bring. The Capital Region is in relatively good shape employment-wise, but the jobs are more high-tech and white-collar than blue-collar and hospitality-type ones. And the tourism industry of all three areas could use a little help, especially in winter months (though, as we’ve argued before, the recent opening of several casinos in nearby states is going to make it harder for new ones in New York to attract customers).
Cuomo’s plan to use independent committees to pick the precise location within these regions makes some sense, as does cutting the also-rans in for a share of the profits. But one can’t be sure the committees will be less prone to lobbyists’ pressure than politicians would be, so it’s important that their members be subject to strong ethical controls.
Perhaps the best part about Cuomo’s approach is that it attempts to reckon with the oft-ignored elephant in the room — upstate’s three sovereign Indian nations, whose existing casino operations will be threatened by the slew of new state ones. Of course the state has other longstanding issues with the Mohawks, Oneidas and Senecas — e.g. centuries-old land claims and the right to sell tax-free cigarettes — and Cuomo may be right that the best way to settle those once and for all is to incorporate them into his casino gambit. The governor has certainly sent the right message to the Indians, though: If you don’t want competing casinos in your back yard, now is the time to negotiate. Here’s hoping the Indians don’t call his bluff.