DiNapoli Says He’s Not Necessarily Against Cuomo’s Gambling Plan

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli told me last night that he isn’t opposed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to expand casino gambling, but adds more information is needed before the state should proceed.

DiNapoli was clarifying his stance after the eagle-eyed (or in this case eagle-eared) Liz B. listened to DiNapoli’s interview on WAMC Friday, in which the Democratic comptroller sounded some skeptical notes on the proposal.

This is all in the context of the ongoing contretemps between Cuomo and DiNapoli, who are at odds over a new, less-generous pension tier and the oversight of issuing contracts, both of which are in the state budget proposal.

But on Sunday night at the black-tie gala for the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, DiNapoli said the governor should go forward the idea.

“The governor should certainly proceed with his proposal and we’ll have a chance to look at it when the details are more clear,” DiNapoli said.

DiNapoli said the state should be “more conservative” on what the possible revenues might be on an expansion of gambling laws, especially since any serious change would require a constitutional amendment, which the governor has introduced.

“There’s more details we need to see in the plan,” DiNapoli said. “My point really was at this point we don’t really have any hard numbers in terms of projections of what revenues will be.”

As for the relationship between him and Cuomo (the coverage of which the latter has derided as a “soap opera”), DiNapoi insisted everything was A-OK.

“We all have the same interests,” he said. “The comptroller’s office is to me the independent voice to look out for taxpayers’ interests and the issues we raised about oversight, proper checks and balances, transparency, it all speaks to the accountability agenda which I know the public expects the comptroller’s office to be a forefront of.”

Grisanti Stands By His Story As Video Surfaces (Updated)

Last last night, a cellphone video surfaced of the fight involving Sen. Mark Grisanti, his wife, Maria, and several Seneca Nation businessman that took place at the Seneca Niagara Casino last Friday night.

The video, which isn’t the best in terms of quality and doesn’t show the entire incident, was distributed to news outlets by Gerald Walsh, an attorney for Eric White, one of the men who was reportedly involved in the melee.

UPDATE: The video was shot by Coreen Thompson, and provided to YNN Buffalo by John Kane, host of the “Let’s Talk Native” radio show.

Thompson told the station she began recording with her iPhone well into the altercation – after, she says, Grisanti needlessly inserted himself into a disagreement between Seneca businessmen Seth Snyder and White.

In the video, you can see Grisanti on the ground being restrained by a casino security guard and later being put into a chokehold.

WARNING: There’s a lot of swearing going on, which seems to be coming from the individual who’s recording.

What you can’t hear is any evidence of the senator directing a racial epithet at a black security guard. Ross L. John Sr., a former member of the Senecas’ Tribal Council, told The Buffalo News he heard Grisanti use the epithet at least twice.

Grisanti told the paper he was upset during the incident, but cannot recall saying anything of the sort, insisting that to do so is “not in my nature.”

The police have viewed another video taken by one of the casino’s security cameras and so far determined no crimes were committed here. Everyone involved was invited to give a statement about what happened, but as of last night, no one had come forward.

The casino’s official video hasn’t yet been released, but may be soon.

Walsh told The Buffalo News he believed the cellphone video shows Grisanti as the aggressor in the fight, which is the claim made by White’s wife, Kristina, and several other witnesses.

But Grisanti’s chief of staff Doug Curella disagreed, issuing the following statement late last night:

The video released tonight is consistent with what Senator Mark Grisanti has stated previously. It is also consistent with the police report that was filed regarding the incident.”

“Additionally, the Buffalo News has confirmed after watching the video that the Senator used no racial epithets during the incident. This video shows only the final few minutes of a prolonged altercation on Senator Grisanti and his wife.”

“People need to read the complete police report, which was taken moments after the altercation, to understand the totality of the incident – including the attack on Mrs. Grisanti.”

“As for the interview earlier today with WGRZ-TV, Senator Grisanti believed the reporter was asking about the entire incident that evening, including the altercation on the video. Senator Grisanti never denied throwing punches in the police report and subsequent interviews.”

Grisanti’s Wife Has A Concussion Following Casino Melee (Updated)

The wife of Buffalo Sen. Mark Grisanti has sustained a concussion following a Friday night incident at a Niagara Falls casino run by the Seneca Nation of Indians, the Associated Press reported this evening.

Grisanti, a Republican, suffered bruised ribs after he attempted to break up a fight at the casino between two businessmen, which was also the sight of a diabetes charity function the couple was attending.

One of the businessmen accused Grisanti of hating the Senecas. After Grisanti’s wife Maria attempted to intervene, two women attacked her, slamming her face on the floor and punching her.

Initial reports of the fight, first appearing in The Buffalo News, prompted a statement from SNI President Robert Odawi Porter, who put some distance between the nation and the incident.

“The Seneca Nation has no formal ties to the Diabetes Foundation, nor does Seneca Gaming Corp. and therefore no connection to the events that occurred Friday night under the Foundation’s auspices.”

“The Nation and I will have no further official comment, other than to say we abhor this sort of behavior.”

Hours later and after the extent of Maria Grisanti’s injuries became apparent, Porter released a statement softening his language a bit.

And in the updated statement, Porter says he spoke to Grisanti “this morning” though no mention was made of that in the first statement sent out in the afternoon:

“The Seneca Nation has no formal ties to the Diabetes Foundation, nor does Seneca Gaming Corp. and therefore no direct connection to the events that occurred Friday night after the Foundation’s gala.”

“Early this morning, I spoke to Sen. Grisanti to express my concern. I was upset to hear about what transpired at our Niagara Falls property in the incident involving several individuals from the Seneca Nation.”

“I want to express my personal sympathies to the senator and his wife Maria, who attended my inauguration on the senator’s behalf in November 2010. We hope she is faring well and is on a speedy path to recovery.”

“I would hope for better behavior and conduct from everyone at such an event as this, although it transpired sometime after the gala ended. Sadly, one cannot control individual behavior. On behalf of the Seneca Nation, I extend my heartfelt sympathy to Sen. Grisanti, his wife Maria and their family.”

State lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment that would expand casino gaming and gambling in New York. The move would significantly impact the Seneca’s business in the western part of the should casinos be allowed in the Seneca’s geographic exclusivity zone.

UPDATE: After Grisanti and his wife returned home from the hospital last night, the senator released a statement giving his own account of what he called an “isolated incident by a few people.” It appears in full after the jump.

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On Gambling, Cuomo In To The Whole Brevity Thing

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to alter the state’s gambling laws through a Constitutional amendment doesn’t need to be that long.

In fact, it’s only eight words:

“…and except casino gambling regulated by the state”

That’s all it takes to change New York’s gaming laws in order to expand table-top gaming in New York.

It makes the amendment, which must be approved by two separately elected Legislatures and then by a voter referendum, a pretty broad stroke for altering the existing laws. The news is sure to raise concerns among the state’s Indian nations, who fear that the move will hinder their exclusivity rights to casinos in western New York.

The new amendment was added the governor’s website with little fanfare, but leave it up to the great Tom Precious for spotting it first.

Gpb 26 Constitutional Amendment Casino Gambling Bill

Seneca’s Porter: We Can’t Afford A ‘Slugging Match’

Seneca Nations of Indians President Robert Odawi Porter, in Albany today to lobby on gaming issues, admitted that he can’t match the thousands of dollars being poured into campaign coffers by Genting New York.

“We support candidates and parties who work with us,” he said after giving na interview on Talk-1300. “But I seriously doubt we can get into a slugging match with a Malaysian billionaire trying to effectuate a $4 billion venture in Queens. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. I think the easy thing for legislators and the public to understand is you don’t need to destroy our business to succeed in expanding gaming elsewhere.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to expand casino gaming across the state, but Indian nations say that could destroy their business built up over the last several decades. The Senecas in particular say they don’t want the state to violate a 10-year geographical exclusivity clause that gives them rights to casino gaming and gambling in western New York.

“Passed as is it could be a significant injury to our business,” Porter said.

The move requires a constitutional amendment, which includes voter approval. Casino expansion has broad support in public polls, but the plan to construct a massive convention center and casino next door to the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens does not fare as well.

Senecas To Cuomo: Thanks For The $1B (Oh, And Honor The Gaming Pact)

A full-page ad taken out by the Seneca Nation of Indians in today’s Buffalo News thanks Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to set aside a $1 billion package of economic-development incentives to western New York.

But the Senecas also take the space to remind Cuomo of the exclusvity rights to casino gambling in western New York.

“Honor the 2002 compact,” the ad says. “Support the Seneca Nation’s exclusive right to gaming in western New York.”

The newspaper ad can be viewed here.

The Senecas have a geographical claim to operating casinos in western New York for the next decade. Cuomo said in his State of the State address last week that he wants to expand casino gambling in New York, both as a revenue raiser and a job-creation vehicle.

The plan is sure to put him on a collision course with the state’s Indian tribes, who derive billions of dollars in business from their casino operations around New York. Any gaming expansion would require an amendment to the state’s Constitution.

This is also another example of the increasing media war over the issue. The New York Gaming Association, which represents racinos, began what it called its first major advertising campaign on the exapnsion of gaming in New York and the group is working with the high-powered lobbying firm Patricia Lynch Associates.

The firm’s namesake, of course, was a top aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, who has been hesitant to embrace a gambling expansion in the past.

NY Gaming Association Launches Ad Campaign

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushes for the expansion of casino gambling in New York, the New York Gaming Association is launching what it says is its first advertising campaign.

Here’s the script:

“It’s an incredible opportunity for New York – three billion dollars in lost revenue, 25,000 new jobs, and economic benefits all across the state.

“But only if we do it right, with responsible operators we know and trust.

“New York’s nine racetrack casinos have proven track records.

“They’re major employers in their communities, provide almost a billion dollars a year to education, and have always honored their commitment to New York, making sure our state gets every penny its entitled to.

“Authorizing gaming at these existing racetrack casinos will mean hundreds of millions of dollars for schools and economic benefits all across the state.”

“Enhanced casino gaming will offer New York State the promise of enormous economic benefits, including the creation of more than 25,000 new jobs, the return of $3 to $5 billion currently spent each year by New Yorkers at casinos located elsewhere, and the promise of massive private sector investment,” said Association President James D. Featherstonhaugh. “We want to communicate directly with New Yorkers to remind them about these benefits.”

It’s an interesting move, considering that most voters are in favor of at least some expansion of gaming in New York, a proposal that would require an amendment to the state’s Constitution — a lengthy process.

So it’s possible the Gaming Association is trying to appeal to policymakers and lawmakers, some of whom have been hesitant to fully embraced an expansion of gambling. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, has been opposed to casino gambling in the past.

It could also be a counter to the state’s Indian tribes, who would be impacted by the new competition and have argued vehemently that an exclusivity clause gives them rights to gaming in western New York.

In the radio spot, the association says the expansion of gaming would would add 25,000 jobs and mean at least $3 billion to $5 billion for the state’s economy.

Senecas Gamble On Ad Blitz

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares to give his second State of the State address that may call for an expansion of casino gambling in New York, the Seneca Nation of Indians is launching an advertising campaign highlighting how much gaming means to their local economy.

The campaign is also aimed at swaying the public on favoring exclusive gaming rights for the Indian nation in western New York.

“Over 10 years, we’ve demonstrated our expertise in this industry, our commitment to the region and our achievements in doing what we said we would with our three casinos,” said Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter in statement. “We certainly hope and expect that state legislators and the governor would not ignore another agreement with Indians and will respect the ‘carve out’ of our exclusivity zone.”

The campaign, called Senecas Mean Business, will be seen in the Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Salamanca, Albany markets. In addition to a website, the campaign will consist of radio advertisments in those media markets.

The cost of the advertising buy was not immediately known this morning.

The nation plans to highlight the economic benefits gaming has provided, including $125 million in annual payroll for its 6,000 employees and the $167 million spent annually with local businesses and suppliers.

Cuomo and legislative leaders in December annonuced they had reached a gentleman’s agreement on expanding casino gaming in New York, which for now is relegated to the state’s Indian tribes. It is part of an overall plan to stimulate the state’s economy and job growth.

Any expansion would mean a constitutional amendment, which requires approval from two separately elected Legislatures and a voter-approved referendum.

Q-Poll: Support For Independent Redistricting Passes 50 Percent

A Quinnipiac University survey released this morning found more 50 percent of voters polled want an independent panel to redraw legislative boundaries — news that is sure to bolster minority parties in the Legislature and good-government groups seeking a process divorced from partisanship.

“Drawing new legislative and congressional district lines will be high on Albany’s 2012 agenda. Quinnipiac University has been tracking this sleeper issue for some time and we see support for an independent commission to draw the lines is edging up,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “By a decisive 56 – 36 percent, New York State voters say keep legislators away from this so-called independent commission.”

The support is up from the 48 percent polled on Oct. 26. Twenty-seven percent support a commission with some legislative input, while 11 percent of voters prefer the current system of lawmakers drawing their own lines.

Redistricting is expected to be the marquee issue in the coming legislative session and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to veto lines not drawn by an independent panel.

Senate Republicans arguably have the most to lose with a non-independent process, while Senate Democrats hope their overwhelming voter enrollment in New York will give them an edge with non-gerrymandered lines.

New Yorkers, meanwhile, remain split over hydrofracking, a controversial natural-gas extraction process. The issue has been cast as an economic boon for the upstate region, especially the Southern Tier of New York near the Pennsylvania border. But environmental groups have been vocally opposed to it.

The poll found that 44 percent support drilling for the economic benefits, while 45 percent worry about the environmental concerns.

“Another big 2012 issue – hydro-fracking – has New Yorkers split right down the middle. Overwhelmingly, voters think it would produce jobs. A smaller majority worries that it would damage the environment,” Carroll said.

It is unlikely high-volume fracking will take place in New York next year as the Department of Environmental Conservation continues the process of developing potential regulations should it be allowed.

A strong majority of New Yorkers, meanwhile, are ready to make a bet on casino gaming expansion. By a margin of 64 percent to 31 percent, voters back Vegas-style gambling, which would require a constitutional amendment in order to expand it beyond western New York.

The poll of 1,143 voters had a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

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