Cuomo's push to legalize casinos in N.Y. has been dishonest

Paul Davies, The Westchester Journal News , 10/25/2013

There have been no detailed studies released about how many casinos the state could support or even where they should be built. The public has not seen an analysis of the costs and benefits of legalizing casinos. No one has even examined whether it is a good public policy for the state to fund its budget on the backs of gamblers. Instead, there have been a lot of closed-door discussions in Albany. Gambling interests have poured millions of dollars into lawmakers' campaign coffers. Deals have been cut to appease Indian casinos and racetrack operators.

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Subjects: Gambling, Casinos, New York

More by: Paul Davies

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's pitch to legalize casinos has been, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, dishonest. New Yorkers deserve better.

Consider some of the facts: As a candidate for governor, Cuomo issued eight detailed policy papers outlining his vision for New York. Nowhere did Cuomo mention casinos.

Then just eight months into his term, Cuomo said he was "actively investigating" legalizing casinos. More than two years later, evidence of an investigation is nowhere to be found.

There have been no detailed studies released about how many casinos the state could support or even where they should be built. The public has not seen an analysis of the costs and benefits of legalizing casinos. No one has even examined whether it is a good public policy for the state to fund its budget on the backs of gamblers.

Instead, there have been a lot of closed-door discussions in Albany. Gambling interests have poured millions of dollars into lawmakers' campaign coffers. Deals have been cut to appease Indian casinos and racetrack operators.

Cuomo formally announced his support for casinos during his state of the state address in January 2012. In the speech, Cuomo also announced a tentative deal with Genting, a Malaysian casino operator, to build a $4 billion convention center in Queens next to its video slots parlor.

Apparently, the active investigation into casinos was more like a private negotiation. While those negotiations were taking place, gambling interests, including Genting, donated more than $2 million to a business and labor coalition – called the Committee to Save New York – that was set up to promote Cuomo's policies and legislative agenda. The Genting deal ultimately fell apart after Cuomo could not guarantee the company exclusive casino rights to New York City.

A couple weeks later, the legislation required to begin the process to amend the constitution to allow casinos was quietly introduced. The wording in the measure contained just eight words.

In March, the Legislature approved the measure during a late-night vote with little debate. Immediately after, Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver issued a joint press release praising the "landmark agreement."

The deal called for seven casinos. How the lawmakers decided that was the right number was never explained. One lawmaker quipped that seven was picked because it was a lucky number.

The second vote required to amend the constitution occurred on the last day of the legislative session in June 2013. However, the state constitution requires lawmakers have three days to review all bills before voting. To get around the waiting period, lawmakers passed an "emergency provision" so they could vote and go home.

In the last-minute rush, a provision was removed from the measure that would have prohibited companies seeking a casino license from making campaign contributions.

The measure to change the constitution to allow casinos is now set to go before the voters on Nov. 5. The Cuomo administration has taken extraordinary steps to ensure the referendum passes. In August, the referendum was placed at the top of the Election Day ballot. Normally, referendums are at the bottom.

In September, the neutral language explaining the referendum to voters was changed to include wording that claims that casinos will help lower taxes, create jobs and generate more revenue for schools. There is no guarantee or historical precedent to support such a claim.

Cuomo's budget office claims that legalizing casinos would generate $430 million in revenue for the state. Never mind the figure includes revenue that will come from existing Indian casinos whether the referendum passes or not.

The budget analysis did not include any of the costs that also come with gambling, which will reduce the revenue projection. Even using the inflated figure, it is worth noting how little the casinos will actually generate for taxpayers.

Dividing the state population of 19.5 million into $430 million means the casinos will equal a tax benefit for each resident of $22.63. That's some jackpot. It also helps to explain why the process to legalize casinos has been so dishonest.

This article originally appeared here.

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