Often issues arise in the state legislature where there are meritorious arguments on either side of the legislation. This holds true for the state-wide referendum championed by Governor Cuomo that, if passed, would change our State Constitution to allow, among other things, the siting of four commercial casinos in Upstate New York. Opponents of the measure argue that an expansion of casino gambling should not be part of any state economic development plan and that any expansion will also increase crime and gambling addiction. Proponents of the expansion, including the Governor, claim that gambling is already all around us and they question why New York should miss out on the development of an industry that is attracting tourism and visitors to other states such as Nevada and New Jersey.
Currently, the New York Constitution prohibits all forms of gambling in the state other than pari-mutuel betting on horse races, bingo and lottery. However, because of creative interpretations of the law and federal legislation, namely the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, we have three Indian run casinos in New York and a number of privately run facilities that operate video lottery gaming. Further, gambling has expanded rapidly throughout the United States. Twenty three states have commercial casinos. Casinos also exist north of the border in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
In order to amend the State Constitution to allow the expansion of commercial gambling in New York, legislation to do so has to be passed by two successive legislatures and then put to a statewide referendum. The state legislature passed legislation to do so in 2012 and this year. The decision will now be in front of the public in November. Voters will decide in a referendum.
If this referendum was simply about legalizing certain gambling in New York State, the argument for or against the referendum would be clear. However, the gambling legislation gets into much more detail. In effort to resolve various disputes between the state and certain Indian tribes, the legislation, if approved by referendum, would only allow the development of casinos in certain areas of upstate New York. In essence, zones are created where the expansion of gambling would not be allowed so as not to compete with the already existing Indian owned casinos. Onondaga, Oswego and Jefferson Counties all fall within exclusivity zones so any expansion of gambling could not take place within these counties’ borders due to reached agreements.
In addition, the gambling legislation sets out the taxes the state shall receive from each of the new casinos. All taxes and fees assessed would be paid into the commercial gaming revenue fund. The moneys of the fund would be distributed so that 80% of the revenues would be appropriated for elementary and secondary education, 10% of the revenues would be appropriated equally between the host municipality and the host county, and the final 10% of the revenues would be appropriated among the other counties in the region where the casino is located for the purpose of real property relief and education assistance.
During the last two legislative sessions, I voted against the gambling legislation and plan on voting against the referendum when it comes to a vote in November. In general, I do not believe we should be using gambling as an economic development tool. In addition, for the region I represent, the expansion of gambling will provide limited benefit and, in return, our area would still be subject to the negative impacts that come with increased gambling. However, if you believe gambling is here to stay, it is already all around, and that the state needs to settle its issues with various Indian tribes in the state, you should consider supporting the referendum.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (315) 598-5185. You can also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.