Lawmakers in Albany are expected to vote by Thursday on a bill to amend the state Constitution to allow commercial casino in New York.
That can mean only one thing: lots of last-minute wheeling and dealing between lawmakers and gambling industry lobbyists. No surprise, the negotiations are taking place in secret. What is surprising is that the negotiations are getting messy.
Las Vegas casino operators don’t like Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to limit casinos to upstate at least for the first few years. The Vegas operators all want to be in New York City. Meanwhile, the racetrack operators don’t like Cuomo’s plan either because the tax rates are much higher for track operators than the casinos.
No worries: Cuomo appears willing to say and do whatever it takes to get a casino bill passed. He has already cut deals with Indian casinos. As the expected vote approaches, Cuomo continues to change his proposal for the number of casinos and the locations in an effort to win support from enough lawmakers.
First it was seven casinos. Then three. Last week, Cuomo said he would consider four casinos. Hours later state Sen. John Bonacic, who chairs the Senate Committee on Racing, Wagering and Gaming, suggested five casinos.
Even if lawmakers pass a casino bill this week – look for it to happen late at night on the last day of the session – it still faces an uphill fight. The New York State Gaming Association, which represents the racetrack slot parlors, said it would not support Cuomo’s bill. But secret negotiations continue with the racetrack operators.
A Quinnipiac poll released earlier this month said 48 percent of voters support changing the Constitution to allow casinos. But opposition to the measure is strongest in New York City. That could pose a problem when the questions gets put before voters in November since the mayor’s race in New York City could generate a large turnout.
No problem, Cuomo has yet another backup plan. If the casino bill fails, the governor is considering allowing more slot parlors in New York City. Cuomo’s drive for more gambling may be the result of the river of money flowing into Albany from gambling interests. In 2011 and 2012, gambling interests spent almost $18 million on lobbying and political contributions, up 36 percent from the previous two years, according to Common Cause.