NY casino strikes gold

June 19, 2012 2:09 pm

The racino at the Aqueduct race track in Queens is taking in almost $2 million a day from gamblers. The average daily haul makes the New York casino the highest grossing slots joint in the country. (Since the racino is owned by Genting, much of the profits end up in Malaysia where the company is located.)

The Resorts World racino at Aqueduct generated $57.5 million in revenue in May, down slightly from the $59 million it made in March. However, the May figure surpassed the $55.4 million in revenue gamblers dumped in the slot machines at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. That made Resorts World the highest grossing casino in terms of slots revenue. That also means the casino is stripping nearly $2 million a day in wealth from the pockets of New Yorkers.

The racino’s success is due largely to its New York City location. It also underscores why Genting and other casino operators are salivating at the prospects of expanding or locating in New York. Resorts World currently only offers slot machines.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the expansion to full-blown casinos, which would likely attract even more gamblers. That explains Genting’s huge financial support for a nonprofit with close ties to Cuomo. The New York Times recently reported that Genting gave $400,000 to the nonprofit advocacy group called the Committee to Save New York. While that figure may seem like a lot it is less than one day’s haul from the slots in Aqueduct.

In addition to Genting, unknown gambling interests gave another $2 million to the Committee to Save New York. The donations poured in just as Cuomo ramped up his support for legalizing casinos in New York. The idea for casinos reportedly came during a fundraiser for Cuomo in Westchester. (See the excellent Times editorial here calling for more sunlight on the gambling process.)

As a candidate for governor, Cuomo didn’t even mention casino as part of his policy initiatives. Now he is busy trying to change the state Constitution to allow casinos, a move that will generate increased social and economic costs across the state. The shift shows how the casino industry’s deep pockets are driving public policy in Albany.

Gov. Cuomo defends secrecy

June 11, 2012 10:40 am

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo defended his ties to a private lobbying group, while refusing to call for the disclosure of the gambling donors who contributed more than $2 million to the group.

Cuomo, who has prided himself on supposedly running a transparent administration, said he did not think it was his place to call for the group to release the list of donors voluntarily. What a cop out.

The group, the Committee to Save New York, has spent millions on television advertising in support of Cuomo’s legislative agenda. The group – not to be confused with Nixon’s infamous Committee for the Re-Election of the President, or CREEP -  was founded at Cuomo’s urging shortly before he took office.

The Committee to Save New York is the biggest spender on lobbying in Albany. It raised $17 million and spent $12 million last year. At least $2.4 million came from the gambling industry. One big donor was Genting, a Malaysian gambling company that negotiated a deal with Cuomo to build a convention center and casino at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens. That deal has since fallen apart.

Genting gave $400,000 to the Committee to Save New York in 2011. The New York Gaming Association, a trade group founded by Genting and other gambling companies, donated $2 million in December, The New York Times reported. The donations came just as Cuomo began to make the case to change the state Constitution to allow for casino gambling. Cuomo’s spokesman said the donations had nothing to do with the governor’s support for casinos. As a candidate for governor the previous year, Cuomo never raised casinos as an issue.

Under state law, the Committee to Save New York, is not required to disclose its donor list, and it has declined to do so. The New York Times and other good government groups have called for the release of the donor names. The secrecy surrounding the money fuels the suspicion that deep pockets are driving Cuomo’s policy. If the donors are giving money for worthy causes than what’s to hide?

N.Y. casinos: Follow the money

June 5, 2012 2:00 am

Casino gambling was not high on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s agenda when he ran for governor in 2010. But just as Cuomo ramped up his support for casinos last year, a group closely allied with the governor received $2 million from gambling interests, according to a report in The New York Times.

The New York Gaming Association funneled $2 million from gambling interests to the Committee to Save New York, a business and labor coalition that spent nearly $12 million last year mostly on campaign-style television and radio advertisements praising Cuomo and supporting his policy initiatives, according to The Times. The money from the gaming association came just as Cuomo rolled out his proposal to change the state constitution in order to allow up to seven commercial casinos in New York.

A spokesman for Cuomo denied that the money had any influence on the governor’s proposal. “To try to suggest an improper relationship between the governor and gaming interests is to distort the facts in a malicious or reckless manner,” Richard Bamberger, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, said in an e-mail to The Times.

In other words, the river of money from the casino industry was just a coincidence. More like a lucky bet.

The donations from the casino industry appear to make it the second biggest donor to the Committee to Save New York. (Not to be confused with the Committee For the Re-Election of the President, or CREEP, the organization at the center of the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard M. Nixon.)

According to The Times, the association gave $1.5 million to the Committee to Save New York on Dec. 1 and $500,000 on Dec. 6. On Dec. 4, Cuomo published an op-ed article saying that he favored expanded casino gambling in New York.

Then guess what happened? “Within days, the Committee to Save New York also adopted the issue, adding legalized gambling to its list of priorities for the 2011 legislative session,” The Times wrote. Blackjack.

In January, Cuomo used his State of the State speech to call for the constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling and proposed a deal with Genting, a Malaysian-based casino giant, to build a destination casino resort that would include the nation’s largest convention center near its Aqueduct race track. Last week, Cuomo said the deal with Genting had collapsed, largely because it could not be guaranteed exclusive casino rights in New York City.

When it comes to casinos, lawmakers like to talk about jobs. But it is really the influence of casino money that does all of the talking.