When it comes to getting casino deals done, history shows that governors will often do whatever it takes.
In Louisiana, former Gov. Edwin Edwards went to jail for extorting millions of dollars from companies seeking a casino licenses. Read all about it here.
In Pennsylvania, former Gov. Ed Rendell and former state Sen. Vincent Fumo twisted arms and brokered deals with lawmakers in effort to legalize slot machines.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is busy crafting and re-crafting a bill to change the state Constitution in order to allow seven or three, or who knows how many casinos and where they will be located. The latest incarnation is a muddled mess that calls for three casinos in upstate New York and no casinos in New York City. A story in The Wall Street Journal kindly described Cuomo’s plan as a ”theory” designed to drive tourism upstate. Never mind the state is surrounded by casinos and there is no evidence that gambling generates tourism beyond Las Vegas.
But even more troubling, an attorney representing the towns of Vernon and Verona has asked state and federal prosecutors to investigate whether Gov. Cuomo’s deal with the Oneida Indian Nation amounts to illegal vote-buying. The deal Cuomo cut with the Oneida nation gives the tribe a monopoly on casinos in Central New York and up to 25,000 acres of tax-exempt trust land. In exchange, the Oneidas have to give the state 25 percent of their slot revenues and agree to support a constitutional amendment to allow non-Indian gambling in New York.
“It is such a blatant, transparent quid pro quo, and it’s there in black and white,” said Cornelius Murray. “You can’t go around commanding and requiring people to vote a certain way, stacking the deck on a constitutional amendment vote.”
Murray sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the state Attorney General, the state Inspector General and the Albany County district attorney asking for an investigation.
“We question whether the governor has used his power of his office to purchase the vote of the Oneida Indian Nation … by explicitly requiring the (nation) to support the constitutional amendment the governor so strongly favors in exchange for gambling exclusivity, tax exemptions and other considerations given to the nation,” the letter reads.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said the “claims lie well within the realm of absurdity.” Meanwhile, Cuomo’s tactics are being questioned by lawmakers and casino operators alike. Consider:
* A state senator said Cuomo’s casino bill lacks transparency and raised other questions about the murky process. “The Governor calls this an upstate economic development act,” said Sen. John Bonacic. “I do believe he wants jobs upstate. I am concerned, however, that his desired jobs will not materialize unless there is broader transparency and more specificity as to where all seven of the proposed casinos will go.”
* An executive at Las Vegas Sands, the biggest casino operator in the country, said Cuomo’s plan to prohibit casinos in New York City in an effort to drive tourism upstate lacks an understanding of the gambling market. The Sands does not plan to bid on a casino in upstate New York.
* One big donor is busy trying to rework Cuomo’s proposal in order to include more than one casino in the Catskills. The backroom maneuvering is just part of the cozy relationship between lawmakers and casinos. The result is often deals that get cut based strictly on politics and relationships, and have nothing to do with smart policy.