New York voters bet big Tuesday on casino gambling as an economic energy shot, agreeing to let seven Las Vegas-style gaming palaces be built around the state, including eventually in New York City.
In a measure that became a referendum on the job-creating potential and social price of gambling, a constitutional amendment allowing the casinos was approved 57 percent to 43 percent, with 60 percent of the vote counted. The vote was a major win for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who proposed casinos as a way to aid the long-distressed upstate economy. The first four casinos would be built upstate, at sites to be chosen by developers. A New York City casino would be built in seven years and possibly more could be built in the suburbs, although some casino operators say the law could allow that sooner.
But while Cuomo hailed the measure as a way to generate jobs and tax revenue — his administration even reworded the ballot language to emphasize those disputed benefits — critics from progressive good-government groups to the state Conservative Party and the state’s Roman Catholic bishops warned that the governor’s projections were inflated and the social cost to families and communities would be profound.
The Democratic governor secured broad support among organizations that would get a piece of the gambling revenue, including businesses hoping for spinoff effects and unions that would benefit from construction and more school aid. Cuomo framed the referendum not as a question on gambling but as a way to capture what he said is $1.2 billion a year in current gambling revenue that New Yorkers now spend at casinos elsewhere, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Canada.
“We are putting New York state in a position to have those dollars spent here in our communities, which will benefit our local economies and tourism industries, as well as support education and property tax relief,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo’s budget office says the state would take in $430 million in new casino revenue, with $238 million for education, in a repeat of the strategy that approved lottery games. The rest would go to communities near casinos to compensate for public safety and social costs and for tax reduction.
The issue will now go to Cuomo’s Gaming Commission, which will work with proposals from casino operators. They will choose locations for what are planned to be resort destinations with hotels and convention space. One would be in the Southern Tier near Binghamton, two in the Catskills and Mid-Hudson Valley region, and another in the Saratoga Springs-Albany area.
Now that the proposition has passed, Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Alan Grattidge, R-Charlton, says he plans on asking the board before the end of the year for a vote signaling the county’s support for a casino in the region, specifically at the site of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway.
He said a lot of communities in upstate New York will now start having their own debates about whether they want a casino in their backyard. “I think we already had that debate,” he said, noting the fact that the county Board of Supervisors has repeatedly voiced support and passed resolutions calling for the local racino to get a license to operate live-table games.
For its part, the Saratoga Casino and Raceway is more than ready to start vying for live-table games. It is the only organization that has openly indicated it would like a license to operate live-table games in the Capital Region, and it is considered the favorite in the region to get a license.
Earlier this year it announced a planned $30 million expansion, which would include a hotel, restaurant and spa, with a ground-breaking ceremony to come in January 2014. The expansion was promised regardless of whether the site got live-table games, although it was seen by some gambling industry observers as posturing to demonstrate the racino’s commitment to the region so they would have a better chance of becoming a full-fledged casino.
Existing entertainment venues, like Proctors and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, have expressed serious concerns about losing valuable tourism dollars to casinos, which will offer their own entertainment. The legislation implementing the first four casinos has vague language about the casinos coexisting with established businesses, but there are no requirements.
In Saratoga Springs, a possible solution to the competition question is the creation of “dark days” at the Capital Region casino’s entertainment venue, so it wouldn’t compete with SPAC.
It’s unclear what impact a casino in Saratoga Springs might have on the thoroughbred racing meet, the city’s signature summer event.
The state Division of Budget has estimated that the overall expansion of gambling will represent about $35 million in revenue for the Capital Region, which includes Fulton, Saratoga, Schoharie, Montgomery, Schenectady and Albany counties. This revenue would include about $11 million to be split between the county and local municipality that host the casino.
Even if the Saratoga racino got live-table games, the additional municipal aid is not supposed to affect the support payments Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County receive for hosting the operation. These payments, which are determined by the state budget, were recently $1.82 million for the city and $609,000 for the county, which is about 55 percent of what they’re actually due. Despite promises that this funding will continue in the future, it hasn’t been fully funded in five years and has previously been withheld altogether.
•Voters approved a proposition to give up the state’s claim to the property of 216 private and public landowners in the Hamilton County hamlet of Raquette Lake.
The landowners have been vexed with disputed property titles since the 1800s, when a series of clerical errors left it unclear if the state or the landowners had title.
Under Proposition 4, the state will release its claim to the parcels in return for undeveloped land elsewhere, with the landowners paying fees to cover the new acquisition.
The parcels include private homes, businesses, a school, a firehouse, a waste transfer station and a marina.
The Department of Environmental Conservation has recommended that the state Legislature target the historic Marion River Carry for acquisition. It’s part of a canoe route that connects Raquette Lake and Blue Mountain Lake in the central Adirondacks.
•Voters approved a state constitutional amendment to ensure additional civil service credit for disabled military veterans appointed or promoted to a civil service position.
The constitution gives veterans additional credit on civil service exams of 5 points for an original appointment and 2.5 points for a promotion.
Disabled veterans get double those points.
However, veterans have been eligible for only one grant of additional credit.
The amendment creates an exception for veterans who are certified disabled after getting the initial, smaller veterans’ credit, pushing them up to 10 points altogether for either an initial appointment or promotion.
•Voters approved a proposition that allows local governments to borrow beyond their legal debt limits for another 10 years to accommodate sewer facility projects.
With New York’s decades-old sewer system in the midst of a major overhaul and tax bases dwindling, Tuesday’s vote on Proposition 3 gives localities more flexibility.
Localities have debt limits based on their budgets and the revenue they can raise by taxes. The idea is to make sure taxpayers can afford the multimillion dollar sewer projects.
Supports say raising the limit for another 10 years is for the public good and essential for growth, even if it means more costs.
•Voters rejected a proposition that would have raised the mandatory retirement age for judges on the state’s highest court and principal trial courts to 80.
That change would have postponed mandatory retirement for four of the seven judges currently on the Court of Appeals, who are appointed to 14-year terms.
State Supreme Court justices, who are elected to 14-year-terms, can now get three two-year extensions beyond 70, provided they get a certificate that they’re capable and needed by New York’s overcrowded courts.
Approval of Proposition 6 would have allowed them five extensions.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman says the lower limit is out of date considering modern life spans, depriving the courts of expertise.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t taken a position on the referendum, which could have limited his appointments to the top court.