With the first wave of up to four state-licensed casinos poised to open by next year, New York’s Gaming Commission will host a problem gambling forum in an effort to draw increased attention to the issue.
Newly confirmed chairman Mark Gearan announced the forum at the tail end of the commission’s first board meeting since legalized table gaming was approved by voters in November. In calling for the forum, he said the commission must address the “very real challenge” of problem gambling to effectively regulate gaming.
“The commission is in a unique position to focus on the issue,” he said. “While the commission has already made strides with its partners in promoting responsible play, I am confident that we can and should do even more.”
The forum will feature representatives from the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services and the New York Council on Problem Gambling, problem gambling experts, care providers, academics and gaming facility operators.
Gearan said the goal will be to discuss best practices in the industry and then use that input to help guide policies and regulations of the commission.
Problem gambling will also be a focus of the five-member Resort Gaming Facility Location Board, which will soon be tasked with recommending the sites for up to four casinos in three geographic regions across the state. Though the commission has yet to release its request for applications for the casino licenses, the legislation passed by lawmakers last summer and approved by voters last autumn includes a provision for prospective casino operators to include a problem gambling plan as part of their proposal.
Last year, the commission teamed with OASAS and the council to establish the Responsible Play Partnership. The undertaking was aimed at examining the issues surrounding problem gambling and has since resulted in a standing working group that meets quarterly to review the state’s gaming policies and program.
The partnership has also focused on ensuring compliance with the state’s 18-or-older age restriction on gambling. Last year, the group conducted an educational initiative aimed at cracking down on underage gambling and found compliance among 97 percent of the state’s roughly 18,000 lottery retailers.
In other business, the commission ratified the appointment of three members to the Resort Gaming Facility Location Board that were announced last month. Paul Francis, the one-time chairman of the SAGE commission, Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz and former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson all were unanimously approved, leaving two remaining appointments to be made by the commission.
State officials still say the request for applications will be released within the next 18 days. The facility location board will be responsible for tweaking a draft of the request before it’s released to prospective operators.
“Our staff has already created a skeletal document,” said Rob Williams, the commission’s acting executive director.
There are, however, additions the facility location board will need to make to the document.
“This discretionary work includes the establishment of licensing fees, the determination of minimum capital investment, establishing for video lottery terminal gaming facilities any credit that may be applied from previous development and also a determination of how local support will be illustrated,” Williams said during the meeting.
These last two points could be critical for a prospective casino in Saratoga Springs. For more than a decade now, the Saratoga Casino and Raceway has operated video lottery terminals that have raked in millions for state coffers.
But Spa City residents and officials have expressed pronounced skepticism about the prospects of live table games rooting at the racino. Last week, city officials unanimously adopted a resolution opposing casino gambling in Saratoga Springs at least until the request for applications is released and the degree of local input into such an operation can be determined.