Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s hardball tactics with upstate New York’s three Indian tribes paid off, culminating with Thursday’s agreement for the Senecas to pay the state $135 million a year in revenues from their Western New York casinos. In exchange, Cuomo agreed not to build any casinos near the Senecas’ (as he’d agreed with the Oneidas and Mohawks near their respective casinos last month).
Cuomo obviously has the tribes convinced that the Legislature will approve a constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling before it recesses next week, and that the electorate will vote to do the same if and when the measure gets put on the ballot in the fall.
But not so fast. It may not be easy getting even the former done given the time frame; given the fact that the governor’s plans seem to keep changing; and given that, as more of the details become available, people who were gung-ho about the idea suddenly seem a bit less so.
Just Friday, for example, Cuomo said he envisions four casinos — not three — initially being built in the upstate areas that haven’t been declared off-limits. Well, thanks to the Indian deals, not very many places are left where four large casinos could be built that wouldn’t compete against one another.
And, speaking of competition, the organization representing the state’s nine racinos — that has been supportive of full-scale casinos — expressed concerns last week that the governor’s plans would hurt the VLT palaces because the casinos would steal their customers and casinos’ profits would be taxed at a lower rate than theirs.
Nor are racinos the only businesses dependent on consumers’ discretionary income that could be placed at a competitive disadvantage by casinos. Arts presenters like Schenectady’s Proctors wouldn’t be able to keep up when it came to bidding for the entertainment that casinos offer as a way to lure gamblers; and it’s not fair because the casinos’ ability to pay for such talent is subsidized by the gambling revenues that places like Proctors don’t have.
State lawmakers need to address these concerns so they don’t sell their constituents out just because the governor wants some easy money. (Now that the Indian deals have been made, maybe the state doesn’t need as much as it did before.) Time is running out, though, and it seems unlikely that unless they’re willing to stay past Thursday’s self-imposed deadline, they’ll be able to do it right. And this is too big a deal upstate for them to get it wrong.