November 11, 2013

New York: We're Betting On You

Last Tuesday, New Yorkers overwhelmingly approved perhaps the most ridiculously worded, most biased proposal ever to appear on our ballot:
The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated.
The promise from our leaders in Albany, the gaming industry, trade unions, business organizations, and local government officials, if the proposal passed? $430 million dollars to counties annually, from the $1 billion in annual revenue that we'll get from those casinos, and 10,000 jobs - well, it was too tasty for folks to pass up.

The four new casinos would be in the Catskills, the Southern Tier, and in the Albany area. After seven years, three casinos could be built in New York City. None would be in my neck of the woods, due to the exclusive rights that the Oneida Nation has to protect their investment in Turning Stone.  Similarly, Western New York will not get a casino either, because the Seneca Nation has the rights to our cash out there, through their properties in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Salamanca. Those exclusivity deals were negotiated earlier this year by our Sonova Governor, Andrew Cuomo.

The Oneidas will pay the state some $50M each year (25% will go to local jurisdictions) and will make cigarettes about as costly at reservation-owned stores as they are at non-Native stores, and will make a one-time payment of $11M to Madison County as settlement of tax claims.  The deal with the Senecas would give the state $135M per year, and included some immediate payments that had been held up in disputes over the compact.  A third deal, with the St. Regis Mohawks, keeps new casinos out of the North Country.

A breakdown of the vote, as illustrated in this article by Michelle Breidenbach in the Post Standard, shows where the opposition to the measure came from:
  • Ten counties in Western New York - Seneca gambling territory - voted no by between 50 -59%. Niagara and Monroe county results were 'undetermined' at the time the article was published; however according to the unofficial results, both are leaning no but by very small margins - less than 500 votes in Monroe, and only 250 votes in Niagara. 
  • Here in Central New York, four counties - Madison, Onondaga, Otsego and Tompkins - voted the proposal down; Oneida county was still up in the air but is leaning towards approval, albeit by only 401 votes. 
  • In the capital area, Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and Warren counties all said no. Rensselear was leaning yes, by just over 700 votes, while Washington was saying no, by only 65 votes.
  • Further north, Hamilton county (118 votes) and Lewis county (369) were also leaning no.
The yes votes were generally strongest where casinos will eventually be built. Along the NY-Pennsylvania border, Chemung, Broome and Tioga counties voted 60% or more in favor; in the Catskills, the same was true in Sullivan, Duchess, Orange, and Putnam counties; other counties in both areas were supportive, but by a lesser percentage. Clinton County, way up north, also voted strongly yes, as did NYC and Long Island.

So the promise has been offered, and accepted by the people. Now we just need to know the details.  This report notes that some big players are interested in building our new palaces of job growth, school aid, and lower property taxes, and that construction should start  in 2014.  The open question is, who goes first?

The legislature apparently didn't include a local veto, but did require that anyone looking to grab a license needs to gain public support - so that seems easier for the Southern Tier or the Catskills to be first up, given the opposition in the Albany area.  If I were a betting woman, I'd bet on the Catskills.

But if construction is only starting next year, will it be 2015 before we're going to start getting our piece of the pie?  And what are local jurisdictions supposed to do in the meantime, wait for some other economic development magic wand to bring them good luck?

Oh wait -- maybe they can take some taxpayer dollars to a racino slot machine or one of the Native American casinos, and try their luck.

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