Gov. Andrew Cuomo has circulated a revised casino bill that would allow for a new New York City racino if a constitutional amendment allowing private casinos fails.
The changes to the bill, obtained by Gannett’s Albany Bureau, aims to thwart potential opposition to the constitutional amendment from the state’s nine racinos, particularly the largest facility, Aqueduct Race Track in Queens.
The bill would allow for another racino in New York City, outside Manhattan, and the potential for other racinos in the state, as approved by the state’s Gaming Commission.
The bill would allow for four upstate casinos and would give them exclusivity for seven years, instead of five in the original bill Cuomo released earlier this month.
Cuomo is hoping lawmakers in the final week of the legislative session will approve the bill and give second passage to a constitutional change to allow up to seven privately owned casinos in the state. The constitutional amendment would then need voter approval in November.
The racinos indicated earlier this week that they oppose Cuomo’s original bill because it would give the privately owned casinos a better tax rate than they have—25 percent compared to 67 percent—and would put the casinos in direct competition their booming business. The state Lottery hit a record $9 billlion in revenue last year, in part because of the growth of the racinos and the aid that goes to education.
The racinos are leery of the casino deal because it also gives gaming exclusivity to Indian tribes in western, central and northern New York. The deal Thursday with the Seneca Nation of Indians gives them exclusivity in western New York and will limit the marketing and games at three racinos in the region—Buffalo, Batavia Downs and Finger Lakes.
There is talk that the racinos could engage in a major ad campaign to defeat the referendum in November. Allowing for more racinos, essentially at the governor’s discretion, if the referendum fails seeks to put the racinos on notice that their opposition could lead to backlash from the governor.
Cuomo initially had the same language in a bill memo last week, but it wasn’t included in the original bill.
A Cuomo spokesman declined comment on the new bill, saying negotiations are ongoing. It’s unclear whether the Legislature would support more racinos in the state, particularly in New York City.
Updated: Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said there are several drafts of casino legislation, but Cuomo’s office is prepared to move forward with additional VLT facilities if the referendum fails to bring in more money for the state. She also knocked the racinos as being “politically connected.”
“There are multiple drafts of legislation floating around – all of which are outdated,” she said in a statement. “That said, final legislation will anticipate what actions the state may take both if the referendum passes and if it doesn’t. If the casino referendum fails, we will propose offering more high end vlts to combat the loss of revenue to neighboring states and secure new funding for our schools. The old detrimental approach has led to a racino structure with some racinos giving nothing back to the communities they are in – this is unacceptable. No racino was granted a lifetime monopoly. We were elected to act in the best interest of the people, not politically connected racino owners.”