New York is on the verge of licensing a new wave of casinos, this time with Las Vegas-style gambling and table games—a step up from the slots at the state’s existing racetrack casinos—and allowing them in three upstate regions that are not on Native American land. Although New York City is off the table, the competition for one of the four upstate casino licenses has attracted a number of potential bidders, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has laid out a timeline that would complete the selection process by early fall.
The expansion is largely due to the efforts of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (1) and his administration, which made expansion a top priority, as well as the state’s residents, who approved a constitutional amendment legalizing casinos in a referendum last fall. Bennett Liebman, a former commissioner on the state’s Racing and Wagering Board, is a top behind-the-scenes adviser to the governor on gambling-related issues. David Skorton, the president of Cornell University, is overseeing the reorganization of the troubled New York Racing Association as chairman of its board, and Christopher Kay is NYRA’s president and CEO.
The next step in the process is putting out a request for bids and the selection of the winning proposals. The New York State Gaming Commission, the regulatory agency overseeing all aspects of gambling in the state, currently has four members—Barry Sample, John Crotty, John Poklemba and Todd Snyder—and the governor announced his fifth appointee, Mark Gearan (2), at his State of the State address this year. Gearan, the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, is set to chair the Commission, which has begun to assemble a selection committee of experts to put out a request for bids. The state Senate and Assembly can each name one appointee, although only five are needed before the selection committee can begin its work. Robert Williams, a longtime lawyer with deep experience on casino issues, is the acting director of the Commission.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattanite often considered to be a casino opponent, allowed the amendment legalizing gambling to move forward last year, but it is noteworthy that no full-fledged casinos will be allowed in New York City for at least seven years. State Sen. John Bonacic (3), who chairs the Senate gaming and judiciary committees, has long pushed for casinos to boost the economy in the Catskills, including the district he represents, and he is hoping to land two in the region. Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who represents a part of Yonkers near the Empire City Casino, chairs his house’s racing and gaming committee. State Sen. Joseph Addabbo’s Queens district includes Genting’s Resorts World New York Casino at Aqueduct, the state’s most lucrative racetrack casino and a likely contender for expansion after seven years.
THE NATIVE AMERICANS
Before voters approved the casino ballot referendum in New York, Cuomo signed three landmark agreements with Native American groups that have existing casino operations in the state, a key move that neutralized three potential foes of expansion. The Seneca Nation of Indians, whose president is Barry Snyder, operates three casinos in Western New York, where it has exclusive gambling rights, and is looking at opening a fourth in the Rochester area. The Oneida Indian Nation and its representative, Ray Halbritter (4), operate the Turning Stone Casino, and have an exclusivity agreement with the state covering Central New York. The Saint Regis Mohawks, whose tribal chiefs include Ron LaFrance Jr., operate the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino in the North Country, where they also have a zone of exclusivity.