Part one of our series on the proposal to expand casino gambling in New York:

Supporters of bringing commercial casinos to New York State don’t want voters to think of slot machines, black jack tables, or roulette wheels. They want voters to think about jobs and schools.

“We’re talking about $4 million into the Ulster County economy. Not just to help offset our property tax burdens, but to simultaneously help our schools systems as well, every single year,” said Ulster County Executive Mike Hein.

On November 5, voters will consider an amendment that would expand casino gambling in New York. In the first phase of construction, four casinos are slated to be built north of New York City. Due to of deals struck with the state’s Indian tribes, the potential casinos will be limited to the Southern Tier, the Albany area and the Catskills.

The hope for Governor Andrew Cuomo is to draw tourists further upstate, rather than New York City.

“The question is not whether should we go there or not,” Cuomo said. “We’re there. The question is should we regulate them better, maximize the resources, create jobs in upstate New York by attracting and marketing 50 million tourists in New York City up north.”

Cuomo’s administration has been active in providing statistics on what casino expansion would mean for the state’s economy:
•An estimated 6,700 construction jobs
•An estimated 2,900 permanent jobs tied to casinos
•Nearly $200 million in aid to local governments
•$240 million for schools and property tax relief

New York already has legalized gambling. The state-run lottery resulted in a $3 billion profit for the state. The state also licenses up nine racinos which allow video-lottery terminals. There are currently 29,000 video-lottery terminals in place. There are also five Indian-run casinos in operation.

“I always like to say it’s like our shoes are tied together because we can do most of gambling, but not all of it. This will just free it up for the full investment and I think it will be positive,” added Heather Briccetti, the president of the state’s Business Council.

Briccetti is leading an effort to promote the passage of the amendment. Called New York Jobs Now, it is bringing together a coalition of casino supporters that have spending heavily on an ad campaign trying to influence the outcome: upwards of $2 million from gambling interests and unions that would benefit from the amendment’s approval.

Briccetti said casinos aren’t a cure-all for the ailing upstate economy but says it is certainly an extra perk.

“No, it’s not a silver bullet, but it’s an added benefit,” she said.

Supporters insist the money for education will flow in if the amendment passed.

“Well, I read the legislation and there’s a separate account that is set up for the revenues generated for schools,” said Briccetti. “It can only be appropriated by the Legislature and it can only be appropriated for additional funding for education.”

However, opponents of gambling have their doubts. They point to the negative impact gambling can have. At the same time, they are skeptical the job creation generated from the amendment’s approval will be meaningful.

Stephen Shafer is a retired physician who runs the Coalition Against Problem Gambling.

“It will certain increase economic activity, the spending of money, the churning of cash, moving around in these communities. But generally the actual job creation is a wash,” Shafer said.

The developers are still willing to pony up the $1 million license fee if the casino amendment could spell major revenue for cash-strapped regions of the state.

“The Catskill-Hudson Valley Region for years and years and years has been dreaming of this, and I think come Election Day people are going to be very excited and for good reason,” said Michael Treanor, The Nevele CEO.

In the Southern Tier, that dream may be realized by an expansion of Tioga Downs into a full-fledged resort and casino. For a region that lags the rest of the state in employment, racino operators are pinning their hopes on the amendment passing.

“We’re going to have a spa, we’re going to duplicate what we have here, which is the ability to have weddings and meetings,” said Jeff Gural, owner of Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs. “All these things require people to do it.”