The favorable wording of a statewide referendum amending the state constitution to allow expanded casino gambling has greatly increased the chances of its passage, a new Siena Research Institute poll finds.
‘The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated. Shall the amendment be approved?’
Asked simply whether they support amending the constitution to allow seven live-table casinos on non-Indian lands, New Yorkers are evenly split, with 46 percent against and 46 percent in favor. But when the question is asked the way it will appear on the ballot this fall — which frames the issue as a job creator, source of education aid and a way to lower property taxes — support increases by 9 percentage points to a 55 percent majority of voters.
The poll had a margin of error of three percentage points.
“Clearly, the wording on the ballot for the casino amendment matters,” Siena pollster Steve Greenberg said in a statement released Monday with the poll results. “When voters are asked a generic casino gambling amendment question they are evenly divided, with New York City voters opposed and downstate suburban voters and upstaters mildly supportive.
“However, when voters were provided the specific wording they will see on the ballot, a majority of voters from every region and from every party say ‘yes,’ they would approve the casino amendment,” he added.
The rosy language of the amendment, which was drafted by the state Board of Elections with input from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, has been heavily criticized by good-government groups.
Jay Ekman, a former pastor in Saratoga Springs and an opponent of expanded gaming, said the results of the poll didn’t surprise him.
If he had his druthers, the referendum would be worded to warn people of the dangers of expanded gambling, which he said are mostly covered up and out of sight. Describing his ideal language, Ekman said, “Do you realize that casino gambling impoverishes people and gambling addiction follows the creation of new gambling outlets?”
He is highly skeptical that the expansion of casinos will deliver what is promised in the ballot referendum. “There is no free lunch,” he said.
According to the poll, a slim plurality of upstate voters, 49 percent to 43 percent, supported the casino amendment without the positive wording. Support among upstate voters increased by 6 percentage points with the favorable language in the amendment.
Regarding the community of Saratoga Springs, Ekman said, “I would guess that most people are benignly favorable to casinos.”
Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Alan Grattidge predicted that a majority of the county would likely vote in favor of the referendum. He said casino gambling was already a known commodity to people in the area through the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, which has video gaming, so voters will probably be comfortable with an expansion to live-table games.
The Saratoga racino is vying to get live-table games and has the support of the county government, Saratoga Springs City Council and Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce.
Even with a majority of voters in favor of the referendum, it’s not a guarantee that it will pass, as voter turnout could sway the vote. Because there is a contested mayoral election in New York City this year, it is likely that a majority of the state’s turnout will be in the city, where support for the referendum is the weakest.
Lobbying on behalf of the amendment is the New York Gaming Association, whose members include the state’s nine racinos. Some racinos will be vying to become live-table casinos.
Also supporting the measure is a statewide group called NY Jobs Now, whose members include officials from the Business Council of New York State, the United Federation of Teachers and the New York State AFL-CIO.
If approved, the amendment would pave the way for the first round of four upstate casinos, which was laid out in a plan introduced by Cuomo and approved this year by the state Legislature. The Capital Region, Southern Tier and Catskills would each get at least one casino under the plan.