December 12, 2008, Blood Horse: A New Casino Push in New York

A New Casino Push in New York
by Tom Precious

Date Posted: 12/12/2008 1:55:46 PM
Last Updated: 12/13/2008 11:28:59 AM

link to original article is here:

Three casinos would be permitted in New York’s Catskills tourist region under a constitutional amendment introduced in the Legislature for consideration next year.

The new approach to expand gambling in an area 90 minutes outside Manhattan comes after seven years of failed attempts to get Native American-run casinos in the region.

“The Indian route would not have worked in the Bush administration and it may or may not work in the (president elect) Obama administration,’’ Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Democrat who chairs the Assembly’s racing and wagering committee, said of failure to get federal approval for the Native American-owned casinos.

The proposal would permit up to three privately-owned casinos in Sullivan County. Because it amends the constitution, the resolution requires two separately elected sessions of the state Legislature to approve it before going to a statewide referendum. The earliest a statewide vote could occur, if the Legislature acts in the coming session, is 2011.

Pretlow, who said he expects the same proposal to be introduced soon in the Senate, said the state would bring in far more revenues for the government by going with private operators rather than Indian-owned facilities. The Indian proposals in the past called for the state getting just a share of slot machine revenues.

Pretlow estimated the state could make $1 billion a year from the three casinos, which would include revenues from a share of all forms of gambling and not just slots. The lawmaker has introduced two measures identical in language except that one would also permit sports gambling, including betting on horse racing. He said the sports gambling plan is a placeholder in case the federal government relaxes its prohibition on that form of wagering.

With a proliferation of new gambling in New York in recent years, Pretlow said he sees voters approving the Sullivan casino plan because it would be limited to economically ailing region of the state. He said the state is also losing huge sums with bettors now heading to Connecticut and Atlantic City to wager at casinos.

Within a few weeks of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, legislation was approved permitting racetrack casinos and up to three Indian-owned casinos in the Catskills. While most of the racetrack casinos have opened – Aqueduct, expected to begin construction on a new casino in early 2009, is the last approved facility yet to open – the Indian casinos were stalled by infighting within tribes, state inaction, and federal opposition.

“I think the time is right now,’’ Pretlow said in an interview.

In an unrelated bill, Pretlow has also introduced a measure to expand the types of games offered at racetrack casinos. The electronic table games, to be run by the state Lottery system, would include roulette, baccarat, craps, and blackjack.

“It’s to get more play at the racinos. The thought is this may attract gamblers who are not into slot machines,’’ Pretlow said. The bill is backed in the Senate by Sen. John Bonacic, who represents the Catskills region and has talked of trying to get the measure included in upcoming state budget talks as a way to raise revenues for the deficit-ridden state.

The Senate is also pushing a plan to permit a casino at Belmont Park, but Pretlow said he and Assembly Democrats oppose the idea.

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