With uncertainty continuing to swirl around a presumptive Saratoga casino, other areas in New York’s Capital District are quickly getting into the game for a casino in the Albany area. Continue reading
We here at the blog, along with the media, have spilled much ink concerning both the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act (“Gaming Act”) and related constitutional amendment. What has not been extensively discussed, however, is an oft-overlooked provision in the Gaming Act authorizing sports betting in the event federal law and interpretations thereof are overturned.
This week, Jon Lentz of City & State posed the question “Did the Casino Amendment Legalize Sports Betting in New York?” This is not only insightful reporting but also asks an interesting legal question, to which there arguably is not a clear answer. For instance, the New York State Legislature appears to be unequivocal in its drafting of the Gaming Act, which states, “[n]o gaming facility may conduct sports wagering until such time as there has been a change in federal law authorizing such or upon a ruling of a court of competent jurisdiction that such activity is lawful.” If such change occurs, according to the Gaming Act, a gaming facility may operate a sports pool upon the approval of the [gaming] commission. . . .”
Assuming significant hurdles to the 1992 federal prohibition against sports gambling are overcome, will future New York casinos then be in a position to start taking sports wagers? That may very well depend upon how the bench and bar interpret the recently amended prohibition on gambling in the New York State Constitution. Following the recent approval of Proposition #1 by voters of the state, the constitution states,
[n]o lottery or the sale of lottery tickets, pool-selling, book-making, or any other kind of gambling, except [the state lottery and pari-mutuel betting on horse races], and except casino gambling at no more than seven facilities as authorized and prescribed by the legislature shall hereafter be authorized or allowed within this state . . . .
So the question now becomes, even if permitted at the federal level, is sports betting unconstitutional in New York? That may very well depend upon how you define “casino gambling.”
Karl J. Sleight, leader of the Harris Beach PLLC’s Racing and Gaming Industry Team, appeared on The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter yesterday, joining Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (interview with Mr. Sleight begins at 23:10).
New York Racing and Gaming Blog editorial team member Karl J. Sleight will appear on The Capitol Pressroom with capitol correspondent Susan Arbetter Tuesday, November 12 at 11:00 a.m. to discuss casino siting and what to expect going forward. You can listen to a live broadcast on The Capitol Pressroom web site.
Less than a week after the voters of the state approved a constitutional amendment that will allow up to four casinos with table games in Upstate New York, the post-election push is expected to transition into high gear on multiple fronts.
Governor Cuomo visited the Southern Tier and Catskill regions of the state, touting the passage of the referendum, which was critical to his major upstate economic development program. Selecting these two areas to visit, which also boasted local election results favoring the constitutional amendment referendum, was not insignificant.
With the amendment passed, expectations are for the new Gaming Commission and its casino siting board that will be charged with vetting potential sites and bids to ramp up. The Gaming Commission is still awaiting appointments from the state legislature, though it has a quorum allowing it to advance agency business (see, “Senate Confirms First Four Gaming Commissioners”). Pursuant to the new Gaming Act, the siting board members are named by the commission. Finding public servants for these critical appointments may be harder than it seems on its face, particularly considering the intensity of the process and significant post-service restrictions that come with these public positions. These constraints are reflective of the premium that the new Gaming Act places on integrity issues. For example, the new law also includes an inspector general to provide oversight of the Gaming Commission.
Integrity issues are expected to loom large. New York is only a few years removed from an excoriating report by the State Inspector General by the state Inspector General involving the aborted AEG bid for the Aqueduct facility—a report still front of mind with government regulators. Beyond the gaming sector, the governor and the state legislature are locked in a battle over the latest effort at “ethics reform” with the governor launching a Moreland Commission (see, Executive Law section 6) to investigate the State Legislature. Unless resolved, that battle threatens to cannibalize all other government initiatives in 2014. In this environment, New York state officials simply cannot afford to select operators with unanswered integrity questions, particularly in the midst of a statewide election year.
The siting criteria will now begin to get much more attention. A full 70 percent of the siting board’s casino evaluation process will be economic development. Another 20 percent will represent local impact and support. (The final 10 percent is based on work force enhancements.)
These criteria seem to provide a leg up for parts of the state which have long struggled economically. Conversely, the criteria may present delicate questions for the successful and affluent Saratoga area. In an expansion of casinos in Saratoga report by the Associated Press, the local questions and concerns of residents suggest much more grassroots work needs to be done to right the ship for expansion of casinos in Saratoga.
The Saratoga area is vastly different than the rest of Upstate New York. It has been an oasis of economic development thanks to government-private sector partnerships at the GLOBALFOUNDRIES chip fab plant and similar investments in the capital region in nanotechnology. The area was also the home district of former State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and benefitted for a decade from his largess. This has led some to think that the Saratoga area has advanced enough in recent years, and now is the time to focus on other parts of the state. At the same time, culturally Saratoga has a long history of allowing or promoting gambling, with unregulated gambling houses dotting the City of Saratoga Springs throughout the first half of the 20th century. Moreover, the presence of the historic Saratoga Race Couse and the traditional sensitivities of close proximity of thoroughbred racing to table gaming and slots casinos may explain, in part, why the ballot measure failed county-wide in Saratoga. While there is generally not much crossover between horseplayers and slots gamblers, participants in table games (poker, craps, roulette) and horseplayers may have more similarities, and thus represent competition between the venues for the same customer.
But what does this all mean? These factors may open up opportunities for other potential locations, including the financially struggling City of Albany and its new mayor Kathy Sheehan, who won election in a landslide and shares the same political party affiliation as Governor Cuomo.
Finally, since the Gaming Commission is not required to site a casino in any region–though no more than two casinos may be permitted in a region–one of the other two Upstate regions might be able to poach the casino facility license that is available for the Capital District for another locale (see the following map for boundaries of the regions).
Expect a lot of twists and turns in this process. Conventional wisdom and presumed foregone conclusions of sites for the four Upstate casinos are embraced at one’s own risk.
New York voters gave the casino gambling proposal a “thumbs up” on Election Day and now the task is to plan for building casinos in select areas. The referendum on the state’s constitution passed with 57 percent of voters in favor and will allow for the process to begin establishing up to four casinos in the Southern Tier, Catskills, Lower Hudson Valley or the Albany-Saratoga County region. The constitutional amendment allows for the eventual development of three more casinos in the state that in a minimum of seven years could include New York City, Nassau County and Suffolk County. Those two Long Island counties voted in favor of casinos by a margin of two-to-one. For the most part, counties in positions to gain casinos voted in favor of Proposition 1. Voters in Ulster County, home of the historic Nevele Hotel, favored casino development and passed the measure. However, in Saratoga County, a majority of voters came out against the proposition. The post-mortem on the election results has begun and we will continue to analyze the fallout in future posts.
With a week and a day to go before Election Day and the vote on Referendum #1 seeking to amend the state constitution for casino expansion, noticeable trends have developed.
A recent Siena College poll shows voters seeming to trend in favor of the casino amendment. A coalition of enterprises have pooled their financial resources into the state Business Council’s NY Jobs Now 501(c)(4) political committee, which has more than $1M in funding available for the final public opinion push. The New York City mayoral race appears to be a foregone conclusion with Bill de Blasio (D) well ahead of Joe Lhota (R) in the polls, leaving the referendum voting base malleable for well-organized get out the vote operations (read: unions). If turnout is light, the side that gets its referendum voters to the polls should win on election night. The opponents to the casino amendment are not well funded and the message seems to be limited to not liking casinos and doubting the articulated benefits trumpeted by the pro-casino side. The Achilles’ heel of the anti-casino crowd is that if the referendum fails, there is likely to be more gaming facilities in the state by virtue of the new gaming law. That cannot be a positive outcome for the degenerate gamblers (present and future) that they say they represent.
With the breeze at the back of the pro-casino crowd, is it time to open a poker chip manufacturing plant in Utica? Or, take that online course on how to become a pit boss? Not quite yet.
Here are a few things to consider.
Guns. Usually the only place you see guns and casinos together is in the movies, otherwise they are generally strange bedfellows. Earlier this year one of the most divisive pieces of legislation in recent memory, the gun control SAFE Act was passed in New York, which energized and galvanized an entire voting bloc. The grassroots movement is not wedded to any political party and activists have publicly voiced opposition to all six ballot referendums as an anti-government statement. If this group gets to the polls, things could tighten.
Money. NY Jobs Now has more than enough cash to run an effective television campaign in New York City, where the bulk of the voters exist. However, the recent court decision by the Lhota supporters that threw a monkey wrench into the campaign finance rules caused his opponent Mr. de Blasio to reportedly make a million dollar purchase of TV time in New York City. There simply may not be enough commercial time left available for the stations to sell and be purchased. If so, it could affect the New York City pro-casino TV effort.
Paper. As in paper ballots. It will be interesting to see if there is a significant gap between those that go to the polls and vote for individuals and whether those same folks mark their ballots for the referendum. The New York electorate is still getting used to the new ballot and voting methods after decades of using traditional voting machines. If past is prologue, there will be quite a difference in that number, with many people leaving the voting booth (or scanner?) saying, “There was something else to vote for on the ballot?”
Sentient. Most people have a general view of gambling, either for or against it. Whether this feeling makes its way unimpeded to the ballot, in spite of the flowery language of the referendum measure itself remains to be seen. If the polls are correct, the language could be a difference maker when we see the results on the morning after the election.
Following up from our earlier coverage of public opinion on Referendum #1 (“Outcome of Constitutional Amendment May Depend on Language”; “A Closer Look at the Recent Siena Poll on Gaming”) the Siena Research Institute issued the results of its most recent poll this morning. The findings? Continue reading