What a week it’s been for the land casino business back East, both good and bad.
On Tuesday, voters in New York comfortably approved a constitutional amendment that will greatly expand the brick-and-mortar casino industry in the state. New York’s gambling legislation, which was to approve up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos in the state, passed with approximately 57 percent of voters approving. It was in stark contrast to a stunning defeat for new casinos in the Boston and Palmer areas of Massachusetts on the same day.
Cuomo’s Fight Pays Off
The vote was the culmination of a multi-year plan by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had navigated the complex web of gambling legislation interests in the state of New York to come up with a proposal that would be widely acceptable to most of the major players there. That included provisions that will leave protected areas for existing Native American casinos in the state in which private companies will not be able to build.
But in addition to the five Indian casinos and nine slot parlors (located at race tracks) already in New York, there will now be a number of additional casinos that will be developed privately in various regions of the area. At the start, only four new casinos will be permitted – a compromise that the State Legislature insisted on when they approved the plan in each of the last two legislative sessions. Those four casinos will be located in various upstate regions: around Albany, in the Hudson Valley or the Catskills, and in the so-called Southern Tier that borders northern Pennsylvania.
Eventually, though, that could change. A casino could come to New York City itself in about seven years, along with perhaps up to two more in the suburbs near the city around that same time.
The casino vote definitely saw some divisions within the state, though not on traditional political lines. While many New Yorkers saw the casino as a way to boost local economies and retain gambling money that state residents may now be taking to Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Atlantic City, there were also a wide range of groups who opposed the gambling legislation.
Not Without a Fight
Conservative groups, including some Roman Catholic bishops and other religious leaders, warned that the revenue estimates provided by the government were likely inflated and that the social ills that would come along with expanded gambling would outweigh the economic benefits. Meanwhile, progressive groups joined in the opposition, saying that the casinos would do the most harm to disadvantaged groups.
As the election neared, opponents focused on the language being used in the ballot proposition. Rather than using neutral language, the ballot question referenced possible positive outcomes of casino expansion, such as added jobs and increased tax revenue that could be used for schools. Casino opponents sued to have the language changed, while polling showed that support for the measure increased significantly once the more positive language was included. Ultimately, the lawsuit was unsuccessful, and the question reached the ballot with the more favorable language.
Additionally, placating Native American tribal groups helped keep much money from flowing into the anti-casino movement, while support for the amendment was well-funded by the gaming industry. This helped prevent much in the way of organized opposition, with far more money – and consequently, more television ads – coming down on the side of casino supporters.
The New York State Gaming Commission will now appoint a panel that will award licenses to developers who wish to build in the Empire State. Of the upstate venues, the Catskills has attracted the most attention, as the region already has a reputation as a resort destination.
If that happens, who knows; maybe Borscht Belt comedy will even return to the long-gone showrooms of yesteryear there.