A previous version of this story misidentified the number of regions where the commission will choose locations for casinos in New York. There are three regions: Catskills-Hudson Valley, Southern Tier and Capital Region.
SARATOGA — State Gaming Commission officials named the one-time chairman of the SAGE Commission, the president of Hofstra University and a former New York City comptroller to the siting panel tasked with deciding locations for four casinos approved by voters last fall.
Paul Francis, Stuart Rabinowitz and Bill Thompson Jr. are expected to be formally appointed to the five-member Resort Gaming Facility Location Board when the commission meets later this winter. The panel will be responsible for evaluating casino applications and selecting those companies eligible for a commercial gaming license in New York.
“These individuals have the expertise, objectivity and knowledge of New York state to evaluate the applications to operate destination resort casinos,” said Mark Gearan, the commission’s chairman-designate, in a statement Thursday.
The selections were lauded by the minority owner of Saratoga Gaming and Raceway in Saratoga Springs, considered by many to be a front-runner for one of the licenses. James Featherstonhaugh, who also serves as president of the New York Gaming Association, lauded the three board candidates for having distinguished backgrounds that will help them reach a rational conclusion for the sites.
“All three of these men know New York state well, so I have to take my hat off to the gaming commission,” he said. “These are three real distinguished, heavyweight appointments.”
Opponents of siting a casino in Saratoga Springs didn’t object to the first three board members named. Colin Klepetar, a member of the group Saratogians Against Vegas-style Expansion, said each appears impartial to the “casino interests” that seemed to influence the ballot question for the referendum and have been lobbying city officials since it passed.
“We are now cautiously optimistic that those appointed to the Gaming Facility Location Board are ones that will not be influenced by the special interest groups, casino lobbyists and Albany insiders that have crafted this process to benefit their needs,” he said.
Francis has more than 25 years of private sector experience and has served as a senior policy adviser under three governors. Now serving as a senior fellow at New York University Law School, he served as budget director and then director of state operations under Gov. Eliot Spitzer — a position he retained under Gov. David Paterson.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Francis as chairman of the Spending and Government Efficiency Commission in 2010, a position he retained until his retirement from state government in 2013. Francis is the founder and managing partner of the Cedar Street Group venture capital firm .
“Mr. Francis’ distinguished experience in both the private and public sector is a commodity that is vital to the siting process,” Gearan said.
Rabinowitz joined the faculty of Hofstra’s School of Law in 1972 and became its dean in 1989. He was selected as the eighth president of the university in 2000.
Rabinowitz has extensive experience in government and community organizations, including the Judicial Advisory Council of the state’s Unified Court System, and Nassau County. He now serves the Long Island Association Board of Directors as vice chairman of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council.
“President Rabinowitz has long been a strong advocate for community interests in proposed casino siting plans, and he brings a valuable perspective to the board,” Gearan said.
Thompson served as New York City comptroller from 2002-09. As comptroller, he oversaw $100 billion-plus city pension funds and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in affordable housing and commercial real estate in the city.
Thompson also worked with leaders of the financial services industry to reform the operations of the New York Stock Exchange and spearheaded the city’s innovative Banking Development District program. In 2010, he joined Siebert Brandford Shank & Co., where he serves as chief administrative officer and senior managing director for the municipal bond underwriter.
“Mr. Thompson brings to the board a lifetime of demonstrated leadership and financial management experience that is essential,” Gearan said.
Two more appointments to the board are expected in the near future. The five members will choose locations for casinos in three designated areas of the state, including the Catskills-Hudson Valley, Southern Tier and Capital Region.
Members of the board must live in New York, but cannot reside in one of the regions slated for a casino or hold elected office. Among its duties, the board will help develop the application form for the licenses, determine a gaming facility license fee, craft the criteria to assess applications to provide the best value and assess the total amount of an applicant’s proposed capitalization for a gaming facility.
Once the board makes a decision, it will be responsible for issuing detailed findings of facts and conclusions demonstrating the reasons supporting its selection. Commission officials are also in the process of choosing an outside consultant to provide the board with analysis of the gaming industry and assist with the comprehensive review of applications.
The commission reiterated an aggressive timeline for the selection process outlined by Cuomo during his State of the State address in January. The board is slated to release the requests for casino applications next month, with bids due back in June and evaluation continuing through August. The commission is expected to begin a licensing review of applicants during early fall and then formally announce the four sites.
Featherstonhaugh was impressed the state is maintaining a tight schedule for siting the casinos. During his budget address in january, Cuomo indicated he wants the first casino opened by 2015 — a timeline that is aggressively pushing the approval process.
“Nobody’s backing away from it, which will make all of our lives exciting,” Featherstonhaugh said.