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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Casinos Have Fans At Board Of Elections

The state Board of Elections’ (BOE) commissioners are not casino industry employees, but they’ve shown an ability to stack a deck.

Exhibit A can be seen when voters read the state BOE-approved language for Proposition 1 on their Tuesday, Nov. 5 ballot. The text is as follows: “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. Should the amendment be approved?”

To recap, are you in favor of creating new jobs, educating children and lowering property taxes? Casinos can deliver all these things, the proposition’s wording implies. A legal challenge to the state BOE’s not-so-veiled cheerleading was unsuccessful, by the way, so an attempt was made to get a just-the-facts statement onto the ballot.

Yet a savvy public has reason to wonder whether Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature’s initial plan to allow four upstate casinos, if the proposition is approved, will attract non-New York tourists and downstate New Yorkers to upstate “destination resort casinos.” Truth be told, casinos already exist in upstate New York. Have you ever been to the Turning Stone Resort in Verona, not far from Utica? No? That’s what I figured. So Long Islanders are really being asked on Nov. 5 whether four more casinos you’re unlikely to visit in the Catskills, the Albany area and the Southern Tier can be established.

Moreover, New Jersey’s Atlantic City and Connecticut’s Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are for many downstate New Yorkers a shorter drive away than the upstate regions I just cited. Closer to home, the video lottery terminals (VLTs) at Resorts World Casino in South Ozone Park, Queens, have, since its 2011 opening near Aqueduct Racetrack, proven to be enormously popular and profitable for Genting, its Malaysian-based owner and operator. Not content to have you drive or take the subway to Resorts World’s doorstep, Genting announced in mid-October it is now offering free bus service to Resorts World, every 30 minutes, from stops in Manhattan’s Times Square and Central Park East and West. The downside: it is unclear based on a full-page advertisement Resorts World placed in AM New York touting this service whether the buses ever bring you back to Manhattan, but that’s something to worry about at another time.

The state Legislature’s attorneys made many of the same points I’ve summarized here when drafting the enabling legislation which gave rise to the Nov. 5 proposition. “New York State is already in the business of gambling with nine video lottery facilities, five tribal class III casinos, and three tribal class II facilities. New York State has more electronic gaming machines than any state in the Northeast or Mideast,” the bill said. “While gambling already exists throughout the state, the state does not fully capitalize on the economic development potential of legalized gambling.”

Translation: New York State needs more cash, and additional state-based casinos will be a great, new revenue source.

The brazenness of this entire endeavor can best be seen at www.nyjobsnow.com, the website launched by the vote “Yes” on Proposition 1 advocates. No one, from what I can see, is offering a competing online vision for the upstate economy, such as New York Jobs Later.

Still, I clicked around the New York Jobs Now site and was stunned to see an icon inviting visitors to “Donate.” Who could possibly want to send money to the casino industry on behalf of Proposition 1’s passage unless, of course, such an act of generosity would guarantee them a ride back to Manhattan from South Ozone Park after an unlucky day at Resorts World Casino?

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net