The decision to put non-Indian casinos in Western New York will be decided by the Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the public.
That is how state Sen. Catharine Young, R-C-I Olean, describes the ongoing heated discussions on the location of three new upstate casinos. Cuomo said Thursday that New York's Indian casinos could face competition if talks with tribes fail. Cuomo's announcement comes as he tries to bring three Las Vegas casinos to Upstate New York at yet-to-be-identified locations. Three of the six upstate regions Cuomo is looking at already have Indian casinos.
The state has a compact with the Seneca Nation giving the nation exclusive rights to operate its three casinos. The Senecas operate casinos in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca.
The governor said he would not allow a new casino to operate in a region where there is already a casino run by a tribe in good standing with the state. However, that could change for tribes that fail to resolve issues with the state. The Senecas have withheld more than $500 million in casino revenue-sharing payments since 2009, and are in binding arbitration with the state.
It is reported legislation is being drafted that restricts the first of three possible casino locations to Sullivan County in the Catskills, the Tioga area west of Binghamton, and Saratoga or Washington counties north of Albany, according to state Sen. John Bonacic, chairman of the Senate Racing and Wagering Committee. The Orange County Republican, who represents the southern Catskills, has said the existing racetrack-based casinos already located in these three areas should be given a preference.
"There are a few proposals being floated right now to stimulate discussion, including those by Sen. Bonacic, who is the chair of the Racing and Wagering Committee," Young said Friday. "Gov. Cuomo has made his priorities clear with his announcement on Thursday, when he said he wants three casinos upstate. At the end of the day, this casino expansion plan is the governor's initiative and I expect that he will make the determinations about casino siting. We will have to wait and see what the governor sets out. Then it will be up to the voters to decide, if the state Legislature makes second passage of legislation to hold a public referendum, changing the state Constitution to allow casino gaming."
A public referendum to change New York's Constitution to allow non-Indian casinos could be on the ballot as early as November.
According to the Associated Press, a spokeswoman for the Senecas said they were abiding by the gag order set by arbitrators and could not comment.
Cuomo hopes to strike a casino deal with the state Legislature, which is scheduled to end it's regular session June 20. Under the governor's proposal, potential casino sites would be identified by a special selection committee. No casinos would be located in New York City for at least five years to give upstate operations a better chance to thrive, Cuomo said.