08/11/2011 3:11PM

New York making push for more casinos


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – New York’s politicians have indicated they will push for expanded casino gambling in the state in the next legislative session, an effort that could present competition to the state’s racetrack casinos.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is the latest politician to join the call, saying at a news conference Tuesday that his administration would consider a measure to expand the state’s network of casinos, which are currently limited to Native American reservations and racetracks. Aqueduct racetrack is scheduled to open a casino by the end of October.

Most legal experts contend that any measure legalizing casinos beyond current practice would require a constitutional amendment, but Cuomo said that requirement might not apply.

“Is it a constitutional amendment?” said Cuomo, a Democrat. “I don’t know, but it’s a topic that we are looking at actively.”

The effort will be discussed on Sept. 7 in Albany in front of a joint hearing of the State Senate’s Judiciary Committee and its Racing and Wagering Committee, which are both chaired by Sen. John Bonacic, a Republican. In recent months, Bonacic has begun advocating for a constitutional amendment to legalize casinos at the same time that private casino developers have increased their lobbying efforts.

Bonacic has also scheduled two hearings in September in front of the Racing and Wagering Committee that will focus on the racing industry, Sept. 6 near Rochester and Sept. 9 in Mineola on Long Island.

Bonacic has said that he wants to explore whether the “racing franchise at state-owned tracks could be legally taken from NYRA,” the operator of Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga. NYRA operates the three tracks under a 25-year lease with the state that went into effect in 2008, and the statement from Bonacic has raised the possibility that the legislature might explore a revocation of the lease presumably to allow casino development without a benefit to NYRA.

NYRA’s lease can be revoked only by recommendation from the Franchise Oversight Board and approval by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board. On Thursday, the franchise oversight board said it had scheduled a meeting for Aug. 15, including a “discussion of NYRA’s June 30, 2011 financials” and its “profitability plan.” At a meeting earlier this year, members of the board had raised concerns about NYRA’s budget and its ability to turn a long-term profit.

It has been 10 years since legislation was passed allowing for slot-machine gambling at racetracks for a casino finally to come to Aqueduct. The casino, which has the potential to be the highest-grossing casino on the East Coast, is expected to contribute a total of $60 million annually to NYRA and its horsemen in subsidies.

The casino is being built and will be operated by Genting New York, a subsidiary of a Malaysian conglomerate that has interests in casinos, shipping, and real estate. After Cuomo’s comments on Tuesday, the company said it welcomed the push to expand casinos and said it would support the legalization of table games at the state’s existing casinos.