The benefits of voting in favor of a ballot referendum that would expand gambling in the state were highlighted Thursday afternoon by a group of business and municipal leaders.
New jobs, increased education aid, property tax relief and revenue for local governments were touted as reasons for voters to support amending the state’s constitution to allow up to seven non-Indian live-table casinos. If approved, there would be an initial creation of four casinos spread out in the Capital Region, Southern Tier and Catskills.
Thursday’s news conference was organized by the New York Jobs Now, a statewide coalition that includes business groups, labor organizations and teachers unions.
Heather Briccetti, president of the Business Council of New York State, a member of the coalition, said with the current gambling landscape, New Yorkers are spending about $1.2 billion on gambling options in neighboring states. “That is lost jobs, it’s lost revenues to New Yorkers and there is no reason why we shouldn’t try to recapture some of that revenue,” she said.
Echoing this message Thursday were Garry Simmons of the Greater Capital Region Building and Trades Council; Albany County Executive Dan McCoy; Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes; and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings. Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy also supports the ballot referendum and was scheduled to appear at the event but was absent.
Last week the state’s Division of Budget estimated the four casinos would have an annual fiscal impact of $35.4 million for the eight-county Capital Region area, including a $11.4 million payout to be split between the host community and county.
E.J. McMahon, of the Empire Center for Public Policy, initially questioned the methodology used by the state to arrive at the estimates and said they may be on the high side.
Jennings said a portion of this revenue should be used to deal with any problems that might arise from increased gambling options.
“To me this is a no-brainer,” he said. “Are there issues with it? Some people identified those. Should we deal with them? Yes.”
Jennings argued that people with gambling problems will find ways to gamble, whether its at new casinos or at existing options. “I would rather have a revenue stream that could deal with some of the [problems],” he said.
McCoy said he would like the Capital Region to get two casinos, because it means more revenue for the region. None of the speakers said they were aware of any casinos being proposed in the region besides in Saratoga Springs, where operators of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway have said they want to offer live-table games. The city and county government are both supportive of that effort.
The speakers at the news conference also supported the ballot language voters will see when they’re weighing whether to allow the casino expansion. The language has been criticized by good-government groups, which say it paints a rosy picture about what will happen with casinos. The language is the subject of a legal challenge that will be heard in court today.
Briccetti said the language merely defines the purpose of the proposition, which is just like any other proposition.
The referendum says, “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?”
Briccetti said New York Jobs Now would likely become more vocal about their support, such as with advertisements, as Election Day draws nearer.