Cuomo Officially Announces Deal On Casinos

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders officially announced an agreement on expanding casino gambling in New York with the goal of setting a priority on upstate casino construction should voters approve a constitutional amendment.

Lawmakers had reached a tentative agreement on casinos yesterday, with a cap on two casinos per region and more equitable revenue sharing for racinos placed near casinos.

Language for a new New York City racino was removed, but video lottery terminals for Long Island was added.

The so-called enabling legislation agreed to by top lawmakers and Cuomo comes after the governor struck deals with Indian tribes that operate casinos, granting them exclusivity zones in exchange for new revenue sharing parameters with the state and local governments.

The agreement means three areas are open for casino development in the first round of construction: the Capital Region, the Southern Tier and the Catskills.

“Today’s agreement with the Legislature would establish world-class destination gaming resorts to attract tourists to Upstate New York, generating economic activity for local businesses and creating thousands of good paying jobs where we need it most,” Cuomo said in a statement today touting the deal. “This legislation is a major step forward in our efforts to both capitalize on this economic development and tourism potential and end the trend of letting neighboring states with legalized gaming take revenue that should be going to our schools. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in the Legislature to make this economic development ‘game plan’ a reality.”

The legislation can be viewed here.

In a separate statement, Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee Chairman John Bonacic announced his support for the agreement.

Bonacic had been pushing for up to three casinos in the Catskills region, but it’s most likely two will be sited in that region.

“For fifty years, the Catskills have sought gaming as a way to grow our tourism based economy,” Bonacic said. “The gaming bill can create thousands of upstate jobs. New Yorkers now have a choice – keep our money in-state – creating jobs, improving education, and providing resort entertainment experiences; or help Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Now it’s up to the people.”

More on the details after the jump. More >

Cuomo Wants To Cap Casinos At 2 Per Region

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing to limit the number of casinos in a region to two, Senate Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman John Bonacic said in an interview this afternoon.

Legislative leaders emerged from a closed-door meeting with Cuomo to report they expect an agreement on enabling legislation for casino expansion would be agreed to this evening.

“Much progress was made today.  I’m optimistic there will be a bill before midnight,” Bonacic said.

Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, said he’s still holding out hope for at least three casinos in the Catskill Region, but said Cuomo was willing to add a fourth casino in the first round of construction in exchange for capping the number of gaming facilities at two.

“In our opinion, the Catksills are the most fertile region in close proximity to New York City,” Bonacic said.

A racino for New York City — an 11th hour proposal from Cuomo designed to limit opposition from existing racino operators for an expansion of non-American Indian table-top gaming — has been jettisoned, Bonacic said.

“As of speaking right now, that’s out, but the island is in with VLTs,” he said.

It’s unclear how many video lottery terminals would be placed on Long Island or where, specifically, Bonacic said.

Negotiators where also able to come to an agreement on ensuring that revenue to state from racinos operating near potential casinos would be more equitable.

“The main progress was on the rates that casinos will pay and relief to racinos that will not get a casino,” Bonacic said. “There would be a level playing field. They wouldn’t get hurt.”

After Cuomo struck exclusivity deals with the American Indian tribes that operate casinos in the state, casino construction would be limited to the Southern Tier, Capital Region and the Catskills.

Cuomo backs a seven-year moratorium on casino construction in the metropolitan region.

In addition to the enabling bill, lawmakers would still need to approve the second passage of a constitutional amendment to expand non-Indian gaming, with voters having the final say in a referendum this fall.

NY Gaming Association Poll: NYers Oppose More VLTs

The New York Gaming Association, which believes Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s casino expansion proposal would put its members at a competitive disadvantage, has commissioned a poll that finds voters aren’t big on the governor’s Plan B if the Legislature fails to pass his gaming bill: Expand VLTs across the state, including in New York City’s outer boroughs.

The poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group, found 51 percent of New Yorkers support the plan to expand non-Indian gaming in the state, eventually resulting in up to seven new casinos, while 41 percent are opposed.

But 56 percent said they don’t support the idea of building more VLT gaming facilities, with the same number saying they prefer more casinos to more VLTs.

When told that the governor’s plan is to push for more gambling in New York regardless of whether a public referendum passes or fails this fall, with VLT casinos as the default plan, New Yorkers were even more strongly opposed, with 65 percent saying they feel that’s a bad idea. A whopping 70 percent said they are opposed to the idea of a VLT center in their own neighborhood.

Also, 43 percent of voters said Cuomo’s support for more VLTs makes them have a less favorable opinion of him – something that might hit home with the governor, given his slow and steady drop in the polls over the past several months.

Cuomo and legislative leaders are trying to hammer out a casino deal before the session ends this week. It is one of the issues that appears to still be “live” down at the Capitol, as opposed to public campaign financing and the Women’s Equality Act, which Cuomo himself has admitted are unlikely to pass before lawmakers leave Albany for their summer vacations.

Casino Gaming June VLT Survey Topline by liz_benjamin6490

Bonacic Still Wants Five Casinos Upstate

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo signals publicly he’s willing to alter his casino proposal to allow for up to four north of the New York City, Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee Chairman John Bonacic said today he’s still hoping for five.

Bonacic, an Orange County Republican, said in a statement that he was pleased to see the state strike a deal with the Seneca Nation of Indians that moved its western New York territory into an exclusivity zone in exchange for resolving an ongoing dispute over payments to the state.

The deal means now three regions of the state are in contention for the construction of a casino should enabling legislation and a constitutional amendment be approved: the Capital District, the Southern Tier and the Catskills.

With four upstate-based casinos now in the mix, the move is being seen as a nod to possibly adding a second gaming facility to the Catskills region where multiple high-profile bids are being made for the area.

Bonacic added, however, that he still wants three casinos for the Catskills region.

In an interesting effort to appear open to negotiations while also firm on his own proposal first made last month, Bonacic first insists “there are no deal breakers here.”

“I would prefer three specifically for the Catskills, but there are no deal breakers here. I want to offer voters a transparent plan which they can vote for. More certainty and information creates less fodder by gaming opponents. The greater the transparency and detail, the better chance voters will support this. Leaving voters guessing on more locations reduces the likelihood of their support for gaming I believe. The Catskills are close to 10 million people and are a traditional resort destination. The Catskills will do well under any fair and competitive casino siting process,” Bonacic said in the statement.

Later in the statement, though, he adds that there could be trouble in passing the referendum if his way of thinking on casinos isn’t adopted in the enbalbing legislation.

“I am hopeful the Governor can consider authorizing five casinos upstate now. I fear if he does not, it will leave it to open ended, allowing casino nay-sayers and those who play to NIMBYism more fodder to oppose the referendum,” Bonacic said. “If the referendum fails, generations of support for gaming in the Catskills will be dashed for no other reason, perhaps, than a failure to offer the best, most transparent plan, that provides the maximum information to voters. It is the Governor’s call. I understand that.”

Bonacic introduced his own casino enabling legislation last month that would create up to five facilities upstate and place a moratorium on building New York City area-based casinos until 2019.

The Complicated Gamble On Casinos

From the Capital Tonight morning memo:

The effort to expand casino gambling in New York is rapidly emerging as perhaps the most do-able of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s end-of-session agenda items.

Unlike abortion rights or public financing, most lawmakers seem to be in favor of allowing commercial, non-Indian casinos in theory.

In practice, however, the move is a lot more complicated.

Cuomo has been trying to clear the deck of the most nettlesome concerns in the process, and that’s striking deals with the state’s American Indian nations. Already he’s put in place agreements with the Oneidas in central New York (to the consternation of the Cayuga) and with the Mohawk in the North Country that allows them to retain their exclusivity on casinos, but grants the state and local governments a slice owed revenue.

In a radio interview Thursday morning, the governor conceded the talks with the Seneca Nation of Indians in western Neow York aren’t going well and that he doesn’t expect a deal to be done with the nation.

Tribal politics and resolving decades-old disputes with the Indian nations aside, Cuomo has to also contend with state lawmakers, who also want some influence in the process.

Just as Cuomo wrapped up his interview on The Capitol Pressroom, Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee Chairman John Bonacic released his own detailed plan for casino siting, a move that he had originally signaled he wouldn’t do after speaking with Cuomo.

Broadly, the proposal gives priority to casino construction in the Catskills, with downstate gaming facilities in the mix by 2019.

The bill offers want lawmakers have generally said they want: A clear idea of where casinos could be built should a constitutional amendment be approved to expand gaming.

It also doesn’t seem likely to pass the Democratic-led Assembly, where there isn’t even a same-as bill.

Cuomo has insisted he wants the process of citing specific casino locations not in the hands of legislators, but vested in his own gaming commission. Publicly that remains a major sticking point.

After announcing his deal with the Mohawk earlier this week, the governor and legislative leaders huddled for nearly two hours on the casino issue. They emerged to say little, but also to reveal some internal disagreement.

Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos emerged from the Tuesday afternoon meeting to float a plan to allow Long Island OTB facilities to operate to manage VLT operations.

“Certainly, the governor is very affirmative about three casinos upstate. We need that for economic development there, but we’re going to look at all regions of the state and how everybody can benefit,” Skelos said told reporters waiting outside.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver came out of the governor’s office a little while later to plead ignorance on the OTB proposal, saying Skelos hadn’t raised the issue in the meeting.

Bonacic Introduces His Own Casino Legislation

After initially signaling he would back from his plan to introduce his own enabling legislation for building casinos, Sen. John Bonacic today announced the introduction of a bill that would give priority to the Catskill region.

In a lengthy statement that was released alongside a “fact sheet” on the proposal and a bill memorandum, Bonacic said his proposal is “similar to the concept” of what has been proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The full bill language can be found here.

Bonacic says his proposal would:

-Create regions in the state were casinos would and would not be allowed.
-Prohibit casinos “downstate” for five years
-Develop a casino siting board that’s appointed by the state gaming commission to recommend who receives a license

Bonacic’s proposal would create a timetable for which counties could be considered for the first three casinos, with either Columbia, Delaware, Greene, Sullivan and Ulster counties given preference.

The second casino would be primed for the Southern Tier, and the third in the Capital Region.

The legislation would exclude both Long Island counties, but the off-track betting parlors in Nassau and Suffolk counties would be allowed to operate one video-lottery terminal parlor in each county.

The final two casinos would be placed in either Westchester or Queens counties or any other county where an exclusivity clause has expired. The facilities there would not be sited until 2019.

Local approval or a signal of support to build the first five casinos would be required as well.

“Governor Cuomo gave us a road map, and while this is perhaps a slightly alternative route, we both are trying to reach the same destingation,” Bonacic said in a statement. “We both want the voters to have enough information to successfully pass in support of casino gaming this November.”

Bonacic, the chairman of the Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee in the Senate, released a statement earlier this month indicating he would not release his own casino proposal, saying that he while he wanted preference for the Catskills region, he would wait for Cuomo.

State lawmakers and Cuomo have negotiated how to site the casinos in enabling legislation. Cuomo wants the process controll by his own gaming commission, but lawmakers want more control over the process and some specific idea as to where the facilities would be built.

Cuomo met with the three legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate this week for more than 2 hours to discuss the specifics, but no deal was announced.

In addition to enabling legislation, lawmakers must also pass a constitutional amendment for expanding non-Indian gaming. The amendment is then subject to voter approval this November.
The governor, meanwhile, has been forming agreements with the Mohawk and Oneida Indian nations in order to grant them exclusivity to their own territory for casinos. The zones in central New York and the North Country have removed those areas from contention.

img-523120632-0001 by Nick Reisman

Oneida Deal ‘Unlikely’ To Impact Senecas

What impact, if any, will the deal the Oneidas made Thursday, have on the Seneca Nation in its ongoing dispute with the state over casino revenue payments?  According to at least one observer, “none.”

John Kane is a Mohawk Indian, and the host of the “Let’s Talk Native” radio show in Buffalo.  He sharply criticized the deal that would guarantee the Oneidas exclusive territory for their Central NY casino.

“The Oneidas pay and pay, and then call it a landmark decision.  They pay for an exclusivity that doesn’t exist anyway,” Kane said.

Under the deal, the state agreed not to build any new competing casinos in a large section in the middle of the state.  In exchange, the Oneidas will give 25 percent of its casino’s net revenue to the state, agree to a permanent cap of about 25,000 acres of land, and apply sales tax on cigarettes and gasoline.

“The Oneidas are the losers in this deal.  This is a perfect example of what not to do,” Kane said.

The Senecas, like the Oneidas, have been locked in a long standing dispute with the state.  The Western NY tribe claims the state violated a 14-year gaming compact by allowing gambling at racetracks in Hamburg, Batavia and Canandaigua.

In the meantime, the Senecas are holding $572 million in escrow from three casinos in Western NY.  It’s Revenue that would have been shared with the state and the cities of Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Salamanca.

“These communities did get cheated.  But they got cheated by the state not by the Senecas,” Kane said.

The deal with the Oneidas comes just two weeks after the Governor proposed a plan to allow state run casino to be built in three regions including Western NY.  It’s a move some say showed the Governor’s skills as a negotiator.

“Governor Cuomo has found a way to break the logjam and find a solution that works for everyone,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.

Dyster’s city has lost $60 million dollars during the dispute with the Senecas.  After Thursday’s announcement, he believes Cuomo could strike a deal with the Senecas as well.

“I have said from the beginning that I thought a negotiated settlement was the preferred way to resolve the outstanding issues.  If there is a way to settle that dispute at the bargaining table, Governor Cuomo will find it,” Dyster said.

Seneca Leadership is honoring a gag order imposed by an arbitration panel.  President Barry Snyder refused to take questions on the issue as the Senecas hosted a four-day conference for the United South and Eastern Tribes at the Seneca Niagara Casino this week.

“They’re not worried,” said Kane.

Kane said the Senecas didn’t “flinch” after Cuomo announced his plan to permit up to seven new non-Indian casinos in the state.

“Western NY is saturated with gaming.  Why would someone want to compete with the Senecas?  They don’t have to pay a dime in taxes.  The Senecas have a huge advantage,” Kane said.

The 14-year gaming compact with the Senecas expires in 2016.  Governor Cuomo suggested Thursday that the dispute would make it unlikely the compact would be renewed.

“Governor Cuomo has put himself in a no win situation,” Kane said.

Kane doesn’t believe the Governor’s comments, or the deal with the Oneidas weaken the Senecas position.

“If anything, this would make it more difficult to negotiate around arbitration.  And I think both sides know arbitration is going well for the Senecas right now,” Kane said.

Kane even offered a suggestion for Mayor Dyster who appears to be banking on the Governor’s ability at the bargaining table.

“Eventually these communities would be better off negotiating directly with the Senecas to get part of the $600 Million.”


Poll Shows Opposition To Gambling Expansion Without Specifics

New Yorkers for Local Approval of Casinos released a poll today suggesting that most New Yorkers support the constitutional amendment that would allow for 7 new non-indian casinos, 54%, but that number drops if you tell them they won’t know where the casinos will be placed or won’t have local control over deciding if a casino will be built in your town.

59% of responders agreed with the statement that “Albany shouldn’t expand gambling without communities being protected and given a vote in the process. Albany shouldn’t dictate where to locate Atlantic City-style casinos that can harm communities. Before the Governor asks any New Yorker to vote yes on his amendment, every New Yorker should know where these seven casinos will be and be guaranteed that every community will have a local referendum to decide whether to have a casino built in their neighborhood.”

Governor Cuomo has said in the past that he wants to have an independent group decide the regions, not exact locations, where casinos should be built. And that voters should know this before they vote on the constitutional amendment. Cuomo has made it clear that he does not think the legislature should be involved in picking casino locations.

The poll asked voters if they would be more likely to support the plan if the casino sites were picked by a nonpartisan state Gaming Commission and 30% said they would be more likely to do so. 37% said they would be less likely.

But, when the poll asked if they had more local control they were much more likely to support the plan.

59% of voters would be more likely to vote for the amendment and just 18% say they would be less likely to vote for it if local communities had the right to approve a casino in their area through a vote.

The poll was conducted by Joel Benenson. He says support for expanding gaming looks very weak right now. “Usually amendments that pass start out with more than 60% support initially,” Benenson said on a conference call.

The constitutional amendment was passed last year by the legislature. It needs to be approved by the current legislature before it can be placed on the ballot.

Nylac Poll Memo Final 2-21-2013 by

Siena: Romney’s Ryan Pick Doesn’t Move NY Voters

Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his VP running mate did not help his cause in true-blue New York, today’s Siena poll finds.

Only 16 percent of poll respondents said the presumptive GOP nominee’s choice of the Wisconsin lawmaker as his No. 2 made them more likely to support Romney, while 21 percent said it made them less likely.

A majority – 62 percent – said it had no effect.

Obama has slightly widened his lead over Romney over the past month, and is now ahead 62-33 percent, which is very comparable to the 63-36 percent margin by which Obama beat Sen. John McCain in New York in 2008, according to Siena pollster Steven Greenberg.

While this doesn’t bode well for the Romney/Ryan ticket, it might be good news for down-ballot candidates – particularly GOP congressional hopefuls – who have been very worried that Ryan and his explosive budget plan will negatively impact their races.

(The poll didn’t specifically ask about the potential impact of Ryan at the top of the ticket, but this weekend’s NY-26 survey did show that the top concern of voters in that district, at least, is jobs and the economy, and not health care).

On the other hand, New Yorkers support implementation of the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare), with more than eight 10 Democrats saying they want it to take effect ASAP, and more than two-thirds of Republicans backing repeal.

A majority of independents favor implementation as well.

Siena also polled on several hot-button state issues. Topping the list is hydrofracking, which continues to divide New Yorkers and remains a “lose-lose” for the DEC and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Greenberg said.

Currently, 39 percent of voters support DEC allowing hydrofracking to move forward in the Marcellus and 38 percent oppose it (the split was 37-36 percent in May).

By a 55-31 percent margin, likely voters support creating a system of public campaign financing in New York. That’s up significantly from May when Siena asked a slightly different question and found support at 40-36.

The proposal to fund political aspirations with taxpayer dollars has majority support from every region of the state, as well as from Democrats and independents and plurality support from Republicans.

The same goes for a constitutional amendment that would allow expansion on non-Indian run casino gambling in New York. Interestingly, the largest support for this idea comes from Catholic voters.

Support for increasing the state’s minimum wage remains very high (80 percent). Ditto Cuomo’s approval rating, which is hardly news anymore. For the 13th time in 19 months in office, Cuomo has a favorability rating of at least 70 percent.

As Greenberg noted, the governor’s honeymoon with voters has lasted longer than some celebrity marriages.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand continues to enjoy a double-digit lead (65-22) over her GOP opponent, Wendy Long, with 11 weeks remaining in this campaign.

While state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and AG Eric Schneiderman have seen their favorability ratings drop, a majority of voters still don’t know enough about them to have an opinion one way or the other.

SNY0812 Crosstabs

Casino Connections

“Liz, Did you guys look up who LJM Rad is?”

That question from a reader in the wake of a CityandState report that casino mogul Steve Wynn has inked a six-month, $60,000 deal this month with the Albany-based lobbying firm spurred me to do a little a Internet searching.

The principal lobbyist at LJM Rad happens to be Jerry Weiss, who served as a deputy to former Gov. Mario Cuomo, when he was New York’s secretary of state, and later as counsel and a campaign manager when Cuomo-the-elder was running for lieutenant governor.

Back in 2010, Weiss was one of a slew of individuals caught up in the net of AG Andrew Cuomo’s pay-to-play pension fund probe.

In a settlement deal, he admitted to acting as an unlicensed placement agent, agreed to the AG’s Public Pension Fund Reform Code of Conduct and returned $52,000 he received in fees plus a $26,000 fine. He also pledgde to forgo any future payments in connection with the NYC Police and Fire pension fund investments in his firm, GF Capital Private Equity GP, LLC.

Weiss, who goes waaaaaay back with the Cuomos (check out this link), has since mended his fences with the new governor – at least the $10,000 contribution the lobbyist made to Cuomo’s 2014 campaign committee last May made it appear that way.

It’s probably a smart move by Wynn to retain a lobbyist with longstanding connections to the Cuomo administration at a time when he’s hoping to break into the casino business here in New York.

That said, this isn’t the first time Wynn has tapped LJM Rad to represent him in Albany. He also hired the firm for the 2009-2010 session to the tune of $90,000, according to a contract on file at JCOPE.

Just to recap: Before the Aqueduct/Genting deal fell apart, the governor became more open to the idea of a casino smack in the middle of (or perhaps more realistically, at the edge of) Manhattan. But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is not a fan of that idea.

This whole discussion might be moot anyway, because in order to build a casino in New York City – or anywhere in the state on non-Indian land – the constitutional amendment expanding gambling would have to be passed for a second time by the Legislature and also pass muster with the voters in a public referendum.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told me recently in a CapTon interview that he thinks the chances of all that occurring are pretty low.